“Where is the sun?”
Father Giovanni faced the gloomy sky. His silent prayer had been repeated so many times that surely God had memorized every word of it.
Clad in his morning civilian clothes, he walked toward the small chapel from his rented house behind the structure. He was assigned to the area for a couple of years. Being newly-ordained, he was posted in an out-of-the-way province to spread the Word and practice his vows of humility and charity.
From a family of middle-class government employees, he decided early on to change his life: he did not dream of following tradition. As luck (or fate, many claimed) would have it, he was called by vocation to serve the poor through the priesthood.
He was about to reminisce more of his difficulties to convince his mostly Protestant clan members when a parishioner appeared near the gate. A so-so attendee by his recollection but pious like the rest of the flock.
“Good morning, Father Joe.” Andy greeted the priest reluctantly. He looked troubled in a calm way.
Because of the people’s perchance for short names, Father Giovanni came to accept his nickname even though it sounded like he belonged to the U.S. Army.
“Can I help you, son?” the priest asked gently.
“Father, I bet on the Lotto yesterday …”
“You know, my son, the Church frowns on gambling. You should not waste your money on games of chances,” Father Joe had to cut off Andy in mid sentence to reiterate his strong belief against what he deemed the scourge of the poor. “I have told all of you …”
Andy was about to leave, not because of the lecture, but because the priest would not probably accede to his request. Yet, he stood erect, listening to the priest’s long monologue which was interspersed with relevant quotes from the Bible.
“Father, I won a million pesos,” Andy politely interrupted. “I wish to donate part of my winnings to the Church if you could help me claim it in Manila.”
Father Giovanni was speechless. The revelation stunned him. The generous offer enticed him. He looked at Andy with awe.
However, he had to think quickly how to climb back up the hole he dug himself up: why did he always get ahead of himself without listening first. He felt embarrassed to swallow every word he had just said if he intended to accept the donation. Also, the thought that since it would come from an ‘immoral’ source, he was exposed to a moral dilemma: accept or not.
He stared back at the chapel once more; it was in near disrepair. It needed not a mere face life but a major renovation. The donation would cover much of the required expenses.
Andy watched the priest nervously. There were rumors that the man of the cloth possessed a short temper. He did not want to experience it first hand.
As if possessed by a holy spirit, Father Giovanni performed the sign of the cross, raised his face to the heavens, mumbled his prayer, and all the rest in literally a full minute.
God, who with all His wisdom and mercy, presented him the answer to his prayer. It was most likely the works in mysterious ways lesson he often discussed in his homilies.
“You got a deal!” he exclaimed instead of Hallelujah which was more appropriate.
“I am sorry, Father?” Andy was surprised. He was having his own musings, pondering his next move if the priest denied his request.
“Oh! Not a big deal, son,” Father Joe quickly recovered, grateful that his audience was not listening attentively. “I am the shepherd of the flock.”
Andy was a simple man so what he needed was a simple answer: yes or no.
“You will help me, Father? he waited for the confirmation.
“Yes! By all means!”
Andy felt uneasy when the priest embraced him too hard that he looked around to see if anyone noticed them. He did not wish to hear wild rumors about them hugging in public.
– o –
A month after they successfully claimed the winnings, a special Thanksgiving Mass was celebrated to announce the renovation of the chapel. Andy, who was named the major donor, was given a standing ovation for his generosity.
“We thank God for his blessings!” Father Joe extolled. “He will always provide.”
“Amen!” chorused all that was gathered.
Andy, accompanied by his girlfriend Jane and her family, invited everyone to a gathering afterward. They prepared an eat-all-you-can party to share Andy’s good fortune.
The fiesta-style get-together was preceded by parlor games for both children and adults. Everyone had their share of rural fun.
In the evening, local comedians delighted the crowd with slapstick humor before an impromptu singing contest was staged. The party was concluded with the favorite village dance.
Before midnight, everyone went home elated. The day became the most memorable the entire village had celebrated in its history.
– o –
Lucky Andy became a household name that even small children roaming around without underwear recognized him in person.
To complete his philanthropic deeds, he made Father Giovanni his economic adviser. Since the priest helped him banked half of his money, he trusted him to plan small enterprises to help the villagers.
Father Giovanni obliged. Their first collaboration was the chapel’s renovation. With Andy’s good fortune shared, the parishioners lent their time and effort to complete the job in the shortest possible time.
“You are the kindest man I have ever met,” Father Joe told Andy in the sidelines. He was teary-eyed admiring everyone doing their share. “Bless you!”
“I cannot do this without you, Father. You opened my eyes.”
Father Joe could not hold out his tears. He wept upon hearing Andy’s admission. In fact, it was Andy who opened his eyes to reality.
“You strengthened my faith!”
“I am happy, Father.” Andy said. “You’ll never know how happy I am right now.”
Andy, the orphan, found the family he lost when he was still a child. He would never be alone from that moment on.
(to be continued)