A Popes & Princes Story
The small chapel was fragrant. Filled with moving clouds of incense, sweet and holy, densely ascending in pursuit of prayers being offered, the space was a portal to another dimension. The chants of ‘benediction,’ a formal litany of prayers lifted to Heaven by longing mortals, were just coming to an end. It was silence now which consumed the hearts of those deep in prayer. Slumped over the front pew was a 21-year old visitor, born in a small community just outside of Kigali, Rwanda. His father, mother, and three brothers had been murdered before his very own 9-year-old eyes during the genocide of 1994. That day, much like every day since, he was saved from the bloody and brutal hacking of life; then in the form of a rusty machete; today, the beast was all around, hunting him in the event present carnage – overdoses, suicides, sickness. Then, it was a heavenly whisper; now, the voice raged like thunder, even in the quiet of such a blissful silence.
Olivier Ducombo, age 9, had looked at his killer’s in the eye, and, with one hand raised, entreated them to drop their weapons and serve the Kingdom of Heaven. Olivier was gifted, this his mother and local parish priest knew, but it was only in their death, as he closed their eyes, that the depth of his gift was awoken. Olivier had walked, after burying his entire family, in the midst of chaos, down a street lined with the enemy. He was Tutsi, he was Catholic, and he, like nearly one million killed by the Hutu majority was simply a scared boy that day in July. But his blood soaked hands were warm that day; they tingled with pins and needles. His feet radiated the same way, a pulse ticking in and out.
As his mind wondered freely in the Roman Chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, he was back there, on that street of savagery. He had been left in peace to dig his family’s grave. The bullets and the hoards of angry men missed him, as though he were a ghost, laboriously trying to dig deep holes with a broken spade. The priest was dead too, hacked especially brutally all over his face, neck and hands. The boy Olivier prayed from the Priest’s funeral book. He knew from serving as an altar boy what pages to read from. He took all of the Priest’s books from the Church his family had tried to hide in for sanctuary. ‘The Rite of Christian Burial.’ He spent the time needed over each grave. Tears flowed from his young eyes. His prayer was to help his family, and his dear friend, the priest, get to paradise. Minutes after making his escape, the Church was burnt to the ground.
Walking from the cemetery on his blood covered and bare feet, he left sacred ground and entered not just a war zone, but a doorway to hell. There were men and boys walking the street with heads in their hands and severed ears, and tongues around their necks. There were chanting and dancing and firing their guns in jubilation. A darkness was everywhere. Their Tutsi’s protection, the blue and white United Nations tanks were nowhere, peace-keepers hiding under desks while the people were being slaughtered.
But this boy, Olivier, was compelled – to continue. He raised his hands and banged at the door of Heaven to be present that day, to be at the the side of a boy, in blood and dirt. ‘My Father… I doubted you. I doubted the teachings, the message. I was afraid to speak of your vision to my brothers, to my mother, to your priest. Now they are all gone. I raise my hands to you. Be at my side down this street of death and evil, and I will serve you the rest of the days of my life.’
On that day he closed his eyes and started to walk. Fear left the boy. His mind still told him that a knife strike to his neck could still come at any minute, as it had to his father. But he walked, and walked. His only words were, ‘Come Jesus, be with me Lord, my King.’ For a while he forgot he was walking. He was in a place, a peaceful place, much like this chapel. And then he heard, ‘be my witness son… open your eyes.’ His feet stopped, his chin lifted up and his two eyes opened, slowly. All around him was silence. All around him was stillness. All around him were the possessed, the oppressed, and the suppressed murderers, their hands at their sides, standing – paralyzed zombies. Staring at the boy, walking down the street.
He walked to as many of them as he could in one day, touching their foreheads; releasing the evil which was holding them down, like a spell. With each man, boy, and woman he touched a great weight grew on his shoulders. The burden, he could feel that weight. It became so great, his knees eventually gave way. But he kept crawling to more, to free them, to let them know good would triumph, God was a present and forgiving light, and that they needed to turn away from this madness. Then there was screaming, a shrill terror that crawled up his spine and down his throat. There was shouting as a jeep arrived, full of men… full of angry men. And then a rifle was raised to his head and a flash burst in front of his eyes.
Three days later the young Olivier woke up on a Church pew 500 miles away. He knew then, as he knew now, his life had been ransomed to free men, to free humankind of their burden. He had been called to Serve the Kingdom of Heaven, to become a priest. He lifted his head from his hands which were resting on the pew in the small Roman Chapel. Through the smoke and the flickering candles he gazed on what looked like a burning sun, what Catholics call a monstrous, holding in its grips a Host; the Body of Christ. ‘I must warn the Pope,’ Br. Olivier said out loud.
He stood up, genuflected, and spun around quickly. The five other seminarians, three of whom were asleep, focused their attention on the tall, thin, black Olivier. Running through the door of the chapel he was instantly in the majestic Italian capital of Rome. The Benedictine Monastery, where he lived, was built in the 12th century and positioned just minutes away from Vatican City. Olivier knew that if he did not warn the Holy Father all of this would be gone, and soon. The blood vengeance was soon upon the world.
He sprinted across the open-aired grass-way, to the office of his spiritual director – Father Francis. Without knocking on the 90 year old monks door he burst in and said, in French-accented English – ‘Father, I need your help, there is an emergency.’