Monday, April 22, 2013
The Angelus bells ring.
Colonel Kaspar Uri, the broad shouldered, six and a half foot tall, sixty-two year old in a black, double-breasted suit opens the doors to the Papal balcony. The blue eyes beneath the old soldier's close-cropped gray hair sweep their steely gaze across the wide vista before him. The sky is clear; cloudless, the yellow-white noon sun is the only break in the blue dome. Saint Peter's Square is nearly empty. A little less than a thousand people are clustered in a rough rectangle directly beneath him. The bulk of his men, The Swiss Guard, account for a quarter of the gathering. The others are priests, nuns, monks and the laity who refused to evacuate the Holy City when it fell under siege in October. Beyond them, past Bernini's rounded colonnades, Colonel Uri can make out a blurred cluster of the nearly million-strong faithful ringing the Vatican in a show of solidarity. Everyone is waiting patiently for the Holy Father to lead them through the Angelus, the prayer of devotion in honor of the Incarnation which is recited three times a day.
Colonel Kaspar Uri steps aside and gestures for the three clerics behind him to proceed forward. One at each elbow, Cardinals Blake and Onuya steady the Bishop of Rome as he walks with small and trembling steps. As he passes, Saint Peter's two hundred and sixty-seventh successor flashes Uri a smile and a mischievous wink. Kaspar responds with a smile and a bow of his head, no less touched today by the quiet power radiating from the diminutive and aging Pontiff than at their first meeting a score of years ago at his ordination as Bishop. Time and torture, Uri notes, have rounded the man's shoulders and sapped much of his strength since then, but neither, it seemed, have touched his spirit.
Towering over the Pontiff at each side, his most trusted consiglieri, the Cardinals from South Africa and Nigeria also flash the Colonel smiles as they escort the Pope to the balcony's edge. Uri acknowledges each with nods and smiles of his own before he steps back, leaving the balcony to the three Princes of the Church.
The Holy Father greets the world, tracing a cross in the air.
Cries of, "Viva Papa!" erupt from the crowds.
Since the siege and despite his failing health, the Vicar of Christ has been leading the noon Angelus daily rather than weekly, using the opportunities to buoy the spirits of the faithful. Today however, his flock will be looking for something more than mere words of encouragement. And it's not just the faithful who have their ears turned to Rome. The whole world will be listening with interest to the Holy See's response to the American coup d'etat. Colonel Miguel Pereira, the leader of the coup, is likewise interested in what the Holy Father has to say. The American interrupted his round-the-clock playing of Christmas movies ten minutes ago. Since then, the American Colonel's eyes, and subsequently every television screen and every monitor in the world, has been fixed on the Papal balcony.
"The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary," Pope Dominic begins the Angelus.
He has been addressing the people in a different language every day, alternating at random between the six tongues that he speaks. Today however, he purposely chooses English.
"And she conceived of the Holy Spirit," the crowd's response rises from the square and the streets.
"Hail Mary, full of grace," everyone recites together. "The Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen..."
"Behold the handmaid of the Lord," the Holy Father continues.
Pope Dominic was born Jaime Agbayani De Guzman, ninety-two years ago in the Bayombong diocese of the Philippines. Young De Guzman never aspired to be anything other than a parish priest, but God, he discovered to his chagrin, had other plans for him.
"Be it done unto me," the faithful recite their response. "According to thy word..."
He didn't know it at the time, but the path to his historic Papacy began in the eighties of the twentieth century. It was then that De Guzman first became aware of a concerted effort by foreigners, Americans mostly, to undermine the Catholicism of the Philippines. These first-world, self-appointed social engineers invaded his homeland through various Non Government Organizations and began working behind the scenes to mainstream contraception, abortion and acceptance of homosexuality into Philippine culture. Father Jaime Agbayani De Guzman was struck aghast at the effrontery of the globalists.
"Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee..."
The arrogance of such elitists who were so hell-bent on changing his country and its culture was unlike anything he could have imagined having to protect his flock from. But fight them, Father De Guzman did! He took the NGO's head on, first on the parish level and later across the Islands of his homeland. His efforts did not go unnoticed or unrewarded by the Vatican. By century's end he was made a Cardinal. The promotion catapulted him onto the world stage and into direct confrontation with the mother of all NGO's, the United Nations.
"Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus..."
As a result, the Philippine Prelate became a lightning rod for attacks from one-world secularists the world over.
"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen..."
Jaime Cardinal De Guzman took the attacks and the vilifying in stride, never losing his patience or smile, not even when the Philippine government hauled him off to prison on New Year's Day of 2017.
"And the Word was made flesh," Pope Dominic continues through the Angelus prayer. He and the Cardinals at his side bow their heads in gratitude for the Savior's Incarnation.
Colonel Uri and the faithful outside the Vatican, in their homage to the Lord's loving condescension to take on a mortal body, drop a knee to the ground. "And dwelt among us," they intone before rising up again.
"Hail Mary, full of grace; the Lord is with thee..." Pope and people recite the third and last Ave Maria of the Angelus together.
Manila, at the behest of the United Nations, imprisoned the Cardinal hoping to stamp out his populist movement against the nation's signing of the Shanghai Accord. The arrest didn't help the government's cause however. The work stoppages and boycotts De Guzman called for went on, steadily gathering sympathizers and adherents despite Manila's increasingly violent crackdown of dissenters.
"Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus..."
And Jaime Cardinal De Guzman might well have died in prison, if it were not, tragically enough, for the assassination of his predecessor, Pius XIII.
"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen..."
In a move that Colonel Kaspar Uri believes was undoubtedly inspired by the Holy Ghost, the Cardinals who gathered to pick a successor to Pius XIII chose De Guzman in absentia, voting him in unanimously, and in the very first round.
"Pray for us, O holy Mother of God," Pope Dominic continues through the prayer.
"That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ," the people add as one.
Uri recalls that glorious day as both the most joyous and surreal of his career, if not his entire life. It began with the almost electric excitement that ran through the millions gathered in and around the Vatican at the sight of the white smoke. The brevity of the Conclave took everyone by surprise and suggested that something special was afoot. The particularly thrilling sensation it generated quickly spread beyond the Holy City, flaring through the streets of Rome and outward throughout the globe. The feeling was undeniable and it was contagious. Even many of the talking heads on television who had spent the weeks leading up to the Conclave trying to convince the world that the Church was irrelevant in the twenty-first century, admitted that so quickly reached a decision was likely to be a 'monumental one for the Church and the world.'
And they were right. The historic Conclave would set off a geo-political earthquake of a foundations-shaking magnitude.
When Nigeria's Cardinal Onuya stepped out onto the balcony and announced "Habemus Papum!" that fateful day, the crowd roared with joy. When Onuya then went on to announce that Jaime Agbayani Cardinal de Guzman was to be the new Bishop of Rome, a deep and heavy silence fell suddenly across the globe like a lead curtain.
The press did not immediately recognize the name. It wasn't on either their short or long lists of the Papabili. De Guzman's name wasn't on any of their lists. Realizing who he was only confused them further. De Guzman wasn't in Rome; he was rotting in a Manila prison. And even if the Cardinal were not in prison, surely, they must have reasoned, his advanced age, which barred him from participating in the Conclave, should have excluded him from being voted Pope. They didn't know what to make of the election. And for a long time they didn't even know what to say. The dead air from their broadcasts added to the ominous silence.
The faithful were struck equally mute. They sensed immediately, if inchoately, the many-layered, historic nature of the Conclave's decision but they didn't understand how it could have been ratified. Old though De Guzman was the laity knew that he was technically eligible to be Pope. But it wasn't enough to be eligible and voted in. One had to assent to the vote. One had to agree to be Pope, and; the Philippine Cardinal was in a Manila prison on the other side of the planet. Surely, they thought, he was in no position to accept the role his brother Cardinals' offered.
What the press and the faithful did not know was that the College of Cardinals made their decision during the secretive, pre-Conclave Congregations and only went behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel to officially ratify the election. Theirs was a uniquely motivated College of Cardinals. They were still stinging from the assassination of their beloved Pius XIII. The memory of Benedict XVI fiery death on Mount Corcovado was still a fresh wound too. In fact, as a body of Churchman who came of age during the Pontificate of Blessed John Paul II, they didn't know a time when the world was not heaping calumny on or trying to kill their shepherd. The Princes of Rome decided that they were obliged to take a stand, once and for all, against a world that was increasingly hostile to them and their flock.
The Cardinals quickly chose their Philippine brother De Guzman as their champion and instrument of challenge. It was an easy choice. Jaime Cardinal De Guzman was a well loved holy man who lived the gospel fearlessly. He was a favorite lieutenant of Pius XIII and so he had the highest profile and rank of the thousands of churchmen arrested around the world for their opposition to the United Nations' monstrous eugenics plan. For two years, the Church had been pleading with Manila and the UN for De Guzman's release to no avail. The College decided that, while the emerging new world order might easily keep one of their Cardinals locked up, they might lack the will to keep a Pope imprisoned. It was an unorthodox gambit for the world's most orthodox organization, but to a man, they all felt good about its prospects.
South Africa's Cardinal Blake, the Vatican's Nuncio to the Philippines at the time, was sent to Cardinal De Guzman with his brothers' decision. With the help of sympathetic prison guards, Blake smuggled a PalmPal into De Guzman's cell and through it, connected the imprisoned Cardinal to the world. The Princes of Rome stunned the world when the Jumbotrons on either side of Saint Peter's Basilica came to life with the round and smiling face of Jaime Agbayani Cardinal De Guzman.
"God love you, my brothers and sisters," the new Pope greeted the faithful. The silence which blanketed Rome and the airwaves deepened even further, acquiring an almost supernatural air. Part of the shock came from De Guzman's emaciated appearance. His eyes were bright but sunken. His smile as indomitable as ever floated in a face deeply creased by pain and suffering. It was over a year since the general public had laid eyes on him and the change in appearance confirmed the rumors that he had been tortured in prison.
"I'm sorry that I can not be there with you today," he went on after a moment. "But perhaps, with your prayers and God's good grace, the government of the Philippines will see fit to release me soon. I want my brother Cardinals to know that I accept their invitation to be their servant and the servant of all God's people. Pray for me, my brothers that I may be free to serve the trust you have placed in me and ever worthy of the honor you have bestowed on me."
"We certainly will pray for you, Holy Father," Cardinal Blake's voice was heard off camera. "So tell us if you would, by what name would you like to be called?"
De Guzman bowed his head for a moment before answering. "I take the name Dominic."
"Well, that's a first," Cardinal Blake commented after a pause. "But then today is a day of many firsts. This Conclave was the first of its kind as is this address to Saint Peter's Square. You are the first Asian to be elected Pope and the first of your age."
"Yes, all true enough," said the new Pope.
"Why Dominic?" Cardinal Blake asked. "Why do you choose that particular saint, Holy Father?"
"I choose Saint Dominic because, for one, he is the patron of my home province of Byombong," the imprisoned Pontiff declared. "And I choose him because he is also the patron saint of the falsely accused."
"Are you hoping to win your freedom through Saint Dominic's intercession?"
"Yes, I am," De Guzman said with a deep nod. "I have been accused by my captors, falsely accused by them of undermining the national security and interests of the Philippines. As I maintained at my trial I say once again, that is a bold-faced lie. All that I have said and done was done and said for the security of the nation's highest interests, the immortal souls of her people! But the false accusations leveled against me are a small matter. I take Saint Dominic's name not just for myself, but for the sake of all Christians who are everyday and everywhere falsely accused. I take the name for those whose love of the unborn is falsely accused of being hatred of women. I take Dominic's name for those whose love of the family and regard for God's designs for man and woman are falsely accused of being bigotry and repression. I take Blessed Saint Dominic's name for the sake of our beloved Church whose glorious contributions to the arts, music, architecture, science and law are dismissed by the flippant and false accusation that she is the enemy of progress and humanity."
A prison guard burst into the cell at that moment. The guard blocked the view of the new Bishop of Rome and then his hand ballooned across the screen as he reached to snatch the phone from Cardinal Blake.
The transmission ended abruptly and so did the long spell of silence.
Slowly, the cry spread through the crowd, from one person to another.
Pockets after clusters of faithful took up the call, the volume of their voices rising like the incoming tide.
The cry from the Vatican soon resounded round the globe!
That very afternoon, the Philippine people began to descend on the Manila prison holding their little-country-priest-made-Pope.
Catholics around the world besieged the Philippines' every embassy with the same demand.
The government in Manila initially refused, insisting that the Cardinal had been tried and judged to be a treasonous subversive and a threat to the nation's interest. "We'll not allow this transparent ploy of the Vatican to influence our national security decisions," said the Secretary of State two hours after the Conclave's decision was announced. The next day, the world press hailed '... the courage of the Philippine government's defiance in the face of Vatican bullying!' Most nations, following America's lead, refused to get involved. The European Union had no such qualms. They cheered Manila on. A general, nation-wide strike was begun on the third day. The government held its ground. Troops were sent to defend the prison, but for every soldier that Manila sent, a thousand protestors showed up. On the seventh night, Manila began to burn. On the tenth day, the government finally relented.
The joyous cries greeted Pope Dominic as he walked out of the Manila prison, wearing a white cassock made for him by fellow inmates from bleached prison bed sheets. That simple threadbare cassock became his most prized possession. He wore it often.
"Let us pray," the Vicar of Christ is wearing it as he invites the faithful to join him in the closing prayer of the Angelus. "Pour forth, we beseech thee O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His passion and cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen."
Pope Dominic pauses to collect his thoughts before commenting on the American coup. The crowds wait quietly and patiently. In that interim, Colonel Kaspar Uri allows himself to hope for the best. As commander of the world's smallest army defending the world's smallest city-state, besieged on all sides as it is, hope has not come easy of late. The only glimmer of it recently was the American Colonel's proposition. Uri shared his feelings with the Pope when he briefed the Holy Father on Pereira's history.
"You find cause for optimism in this American?" Pope Dominic asked him.
"I do, Your Holiness," Kaspar answered. "I do."
"He's done some terrible things, Kaspar."
"He's a soldier, Your Holiness," Uri responded. "We're often required to do terrible things."
Pope Dominic nodded sadly.
"I believe," Kaspar continued. "In a world like Colonel Pereira proposes to create, soldiers would be called upon to do such terrible things much less often."
"Do you believe that this American can create such a world?" the Pope asked.
"Not by himself, Your Holiness," Kaspar offered.
The Pope smiled. "We will pray over it."
And pray he did, for hours.
"Yesterday, something remarkable happened," the Holy Father says, sharing the fruits of his prayers with the waiting world. "Yesterday we were all invited by Colonel Miguel Cesar Pereira to join him in the creation of a pro-life civilization. How can we, the Catholic Church, not accept such an offer? As Christians, we must accept. As Catholics, we will do so eagerly. We commend the Colonel on his desire to create a Christian republic, to forge a nation and a civilization that acknowledges Jesus Christ as the Lord and King of the world. We believe all the peoples of the Earth should do likewise.
"And yet, Colonel Pereira, we trust that you will be good enough to understand that, given the manner of your sudden and unexpected rise to prominence and of your regime's introductory display of power, we are naturally wary of, even as we are excited by the proposal you put forth yesterday. So learned a student of history, you will readily agree that the loftiest of goals have often been used to commit the lowliest of crimes against God and man. Thus we trust that you will begrudge no one their caution.
"As Christians we pray for God's Kingdom to come and for His Will to be done on Earth. This Kingdom of God we pray for is love. The Will of God we pray to see done is also love. This Christian love, which like the sun that shines down on both the just and the wicked, should encompass both one's friends and one's foes. It is only upon such a divine love that the pro-life civilization proposed can be built. Any other foundation will prove to be nothing more than shifting, ever-sinking sand. If this be the cornerstone you propose to build on, then and only then Colonel, we are with you."
The Bishop of Rome traces another cross in the air. "May God bless us all. In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen."
The Cardinals escort Pope Dominic back into the room with the cries of "Viva Papa" rising from the streets and square. Colonel Uri closes the Papal balcony doors behind them. When he turns back to the room he finds the Vicar of Christ looking at him expectantly, his right hand stretched in invitation.
"What do you think Kaspar, of my response to the American?"
Colonel Uri takes the Popes hand and kisses it. "I think it was perfect, Your Holiness."
"I'm glad you think so," the Pontiff says with a wide smile. Still holding on to Uri's hand, he turns momentarily to the Cardinals. "Brother Remy, Brother Nathaniel would you be so kind as to allow Colonel Uri to escort me to lunch today, there is something I need to discuss with him."
The two Cardinals bow and leave. Kaspar Uri helps the Pope get into the rear seat of one of the affectionately named Pope-cycles, electric, three-seat tricycles used to ferry the aging Pontiff around the interiors of the various Vatican buildings. Once the old man is secure, Uri straddles the front, driver's seat and swivels it around to face up the Y-frame at the Holy Father.
"What is it Boss?"
"It's about Cardinals Blake and Onuya."
"I'm afraid that they may be too fond of me, Kaspar."
"There's a lot of that going around here, Your Holiness."
The Pope pauses to smile appreciatively before going on. "If things go from bad to worse, I want your promise that you will do everything in your power to protect them, to get them out of here and to safety."
"What are you saying exactly, Holy Father?"
"I fear that if our situation at the Vatican becomes desperate, the good Cardinals will refuse to leave my side and insist on sharing my fate. They must not be allowed to. For the sake of the Church you must evacuate them, even against their will. They must be protected, at all cost."
"But Your Holiness," Colonel Uri protests. "We are charged, I am charged with protecting the Pope, protecting you, Holy Father."
"I know Kaspar, I know," the Pope says, taking Uri's hand in his. "But I am an old man of shrinking account. The future of the Church is with Blake and Onuya. One of those men will succeed me; or, at the very least, they will decide who comes after me. I'm asking you not to worry so much about the Pope, Kaspar. I need you and the Church needs you to protect the Papacy."
Monday, April 1, 2013
The House of Islam
"Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those who say this are witless."
--- Ayatollah Khomeini
"He who has a thousand friends has not a friend to spare,
And he, who has a single enemy, will meet him everywhere."
--- Ali Bin Abi Thalib
["Thou has conquered, O Galilean!"
The last words attributed to the dying apostate and Roman emperor Julian may be apocryphal, but they might have been uttered by any of the many would-be vanquishers of The Catholic Church. We can imagine the various Caesars before him saying it, disgusted with their failure to stamp out the new cult. Why was it, they must have wondered, that the more Christians were killed, and the more brutally they were killed, the greater the number of converts the young faith won for itself? How strange these faithful must have seemed to the emperors. In the ensuing centuries, the same question must have plagued pagan chieftains who watched their people abandon the 'old gods and ways' for the cross and the dead God who hung upon it. They must have been equally perplexed and perturbed to find that their savage campaigns against the new religion strengthened and advanced it. Like Julian, they too must have ended their lives, sunk in the same bitter resignation.
Modern enemies of Catholicism fared no better against The Church and Her faithful.
In dreary exile, ruminating over the might-have-beens of his career, Napoleon lived to regret his abuse of the Church and the Pope. The Catholic laity, incensed at his treatment of their Holy Father, rose up against the general everywhere. From Warsaw to Madrid, from Cologne to Rome, the opposition of the Catholic faithful played a large part in Bonaparte's final defeat. In the following century Portugal, Spain, Mexico, China and the Soviet Union all tried and failed to defeat the Church. Again, it was the faithful who saw the Church through the dark days of the twentieth century.
And in the beginning of this century, when it seemed the whole modern world was determined to be rid of the Catholic Church, the faithful, once again, rose up in Her defense...]
--- Ballots, Bullets & Blogs: A Study of Colonel Pereira's Christmas Crusade
--- Elmer Kidd
December 25, 2019
The Ikwan Salafi Cultural Center, Dearborn Michigan
"We are agreed," Sheik Qassim Abdul Zahra says with a grave nod of his large, gray head. "We must answer this Christian Colonel in blood."
The seven men sitting across the glass, crescent-shaped conference table nod their heads resolutely.
"If we leave tonight," Sayyid al-Masri speaks up for his fellows. "We can be ready to strike by Friday, or Saturday at the latest."
"Saturday will be perfect," Abu Hamza says with a chuckle.
"Why would it be so?" Sheik Qassim asks.
"It's the Feast of The Holy Innocents," Abu offers with a smile. "The last Pope made it a Holy Day of Obligation. The churches will be full."
"That is certainly providential," the Sheik agrees. He offers his lieutenant a half-smile of appreciation, grateful that the convert from Catholicism is eager to use his knowledge of the religion against his former faith. "Saturday, it is. May almighty Allah strengthen your arms against our enemy."
The Sheik rises from his seat and his seven lieutenants follow suit. One by one they round the table to pay him obeisance. They clasp arms and kiss his cheeks. Qassim returns the gesture, blessing them. One by one they then file out of the conference room. They are each heading to a different part of the country, all of them on the same mission: wage jihad against the Colonel's Christian republic.
William Jennings O'Neill is afraid that he will be the last President of the United States of America.
At the very least he has the unfortunate distinction of being the country's first Chief Executive to be kidnapped. He is the first ever Commander in Chief to be held hostage; a prisoner of his own military, no less! No, not the entire military, the President corrects himself in an effort to alleviate his growing sense of dread. It's just a faction of the military. The correction brings him no consolation. He tries to dismiss the anxiety as the product of shock and sleeplessness, but it is no use. William O'Neill knows that he has good reason to be afraid; his world is being deconstructed before his eyes. The fear, which he kept at bay for the better part of a day, will not leave him now. It clings to him, tighter than the film of cold sweat under the suit he has worn for over twenty-four hours.
Colonel Miguel Pereira is the face of the President's fear. The mutinous officer introduced himself to the world three hours ago and then promptly dissolved America's bonds with the international community by bringing down the United Nations tower in a controlled implosion. The Colonel's rogue troops, holding him prisoner in the underground installation of Mount Weather, exploded into celebration at the sight. They cheered and whooped, danced and sang and toasted the terrorist act of demolition with champagne. It was a scene as surreal as watching the iconic building crumble into a cloud of concrete dust.
And now, an hour after the party died down, the President of the United States looks down at the rock-hewn Command Core of the underground base, witnessing a new strangeness. He listens in as an American airman guides a Russian Tupolev Tu-95 Bear bomber through Chinese airspace.
"Partridge, this is Pear Tree. Do you read me?"
"Loud and clear, Pear Tree," the response is in a male, Russian-accented voice.
"Partridge, you have multiple bogeys at eleven o'clock. They're seventy-five klicks out blocking three-three-zero to four-one-oh."
"Roger, Pear Tree."
"There is no sign they've seen you. They're just out fishing."
"Roger that, Pear Tree. We're climbing to four-seven-oh all the same. Better safe than sorry, my comrades."
"Roger, Partridge. Climb to four-seven-oh and continue to the coast. Your road is clear."
President O'Neill watches the Tu-95's progress on one of the screens opposite the observation balcony. The Bear bomber is some five hundred or so miles south of the Mongolian border on a heading to the East China Sea. Ordinarily, so flagrant a violation of China's airspace might have set off a war between the two super powers. These were not ordinary times, however. Colonel Pereira has control of the world's satellites and through them he is able to suppress communications and radar at will. The Chinese have no idea that a nuclear-armed Russian bomber is flying through the heart of their nation. O'Neill also suspects the Russians have no idea that one of their Bears is missing.
The President of the United States can't even guess why the Colonel is running this particular mission. He is too tired to even try.
"I must try and get some sleep," he says, turning his back on the war room beneath him.
"That's a good idea, Mr. President," Morton Gallagher agrees with a weary nod.
The President gives the Secret Service Agent a weak smile. Poor Mort, he thinks. He won't stand down until I do. O'Neill ordered Congressman Lamar Reed, Gallagher and their people to bed over an hour ago. Morton refused to leave his charge unattended. The kidnapping stung his professional pride, no doubt. The President would go to bed, if only to allow his faithful guard some much needed sleep.
"Get some shut-eye yourself, Mort," the President admonishes the agent when they reach the door of the nearest sleeping quarter.
"I will, sir," Morton answers. "I'll give Fernandez a couple of more hours of sleep before I wake her to relieve me."
"As you will," the President says.
"Good night, Mr. President."
"Too late for that, but thanks all the same," O'Neill says and then shuts the door behind him.
Once in the room, the President takes off his jacket and tie and drapes them over the chest of drawers by the bed. He unbuttons his shirt on the way into the bathroom. Inside, he turns the hot water on in the shower stall. Steam begins rising immediately off the blue tiled floor. He strips the rest of his clothes off while staring into his reflection in the mirror over the small sink of brushed steel. William Jennings O'Neill puts the world aside as he undresses and thinks of his wife. This is the first Christmas in twenty-seven years that they will be apart. About an hour after they made their intentions known to the world, the President's captors allowed him and his party thirty minutes each to talk their families. He spent that time assuring her that he was neither hurt nor in danger, what he knew of his captors and that he missed her dearly but would see her soon.
"You believe them then?" she asked near the end of their conversation. "You believe they'll just release you in twelve days, just like that?"
"Oddly enough, yes I do."
"Wouldn't you be more valuable to them as a hostage?"
"You would think," O'Neill answered. "But I have a feeling that these rogue troops won't need to hold me."
After a pause, she went on to ask, "Do you think they will get away with it, imposing their Christian Republic on everyone?"
"I know they intend to try, hon," he said. "And when I get out of here, I intend to stop them."
Looking beyond his reflection, O'Neill imagines his wife Becky, keeping up a brave front, busying herself attending to the family and friends who gathered at their Cincinnati home. He will have to do the same, he decides, and; shrug off the temptation to despair with which his helplessness taunts him. He closes his eyes and rests his forehead against the cool glass of the mirror. He takes a few deep breaths, willing the shadows from his mind. When he opens his eyes again he finds that they have retreated some. He follows the cloud of steam to the stall, hoping the shower will wash them back further still.
Monday, November 5, 2012
“Alright Colonel, you’re on in four, three, two, one…”
Colonel Miguel Cesar Pereira looks into the camera. The image of the Colonel, seated behind the Resolution Desk in the Oval Office, wearing his medal-studded uniform, is beamed the world over. The signal which carries it interrupts the playing of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” To the surprise of millions around the world, the signal also turns on televisions, computers and cell phones that were shut off.
“My fellow Americans, my name is Colonel Miguel Cesar Pereira,” he says, his voice a rumbling baritone. “And in the interest of preserving our Republic, I have seized control of government.
“First let me say that I regret the necessity that compelled me to do this. The tens of thousands who are putting their lives and honor on the line with me tonight likewise wish they didn’t have to become revolutionaries. However, we see no other way to save our country from the downward spiral of decay and decline than to wrest control of the nation away from those who have set it and keep it on so grave and doom-bound a course.
“The pit of oblivion, my fellow Americans, yawns wide beneath us. That is not mere hyperbole. We all know it; our country is not what she used to be. We are in free fall. Many are rightly afraid that America is dying. We have been written off by a great many people, both abroad and at home. For the first time in our history, it is all too possible to imagine the world without an America.
"Our great nation is also reviled and condemned the world over as the source of all modern ills. Enemies without and within are hard at work at destroying us. Our way of life, what’s left of it, is everywhere denounced. Our flag is every day defiled. Our accomplishments are dismissed as the spoils of exploitation. In response, many of our leaders have taken it upon themselves to shamelessly circle the world, hat in hand, bowing and begging forgiveness on our behalf.
“My comrades and I believe the calumny heaped on America is grossly undeserved. We believe the pandering of our politicians to world opinion to be disgraceful. Contrary to what is daily peddled by the world press and treasonous politicians at home, my compatriots and I unapologetically and unabashedly assert that America has been a greater force for good than any other nation in human history.
“America did not invent war. We did not invent slavery. We know America did not create colonialism, imperialism or fascism. Bigotry and hatred were not made in the USA. We know for a fact that the multitude of sins America is accused of, have likewise been committed by all nations; more often than not, to far more egregious extremes. No people on the face of the earth have the right to lecture us on any subject. There is no nation, anywhere on the globe, which has either the just cause or the moral authority to demand anything, least of all an apology of America. Let the world believe and say what it will. We know better. We know America is an exceptional nation, without equal on the planet and without peer in history.
“We know however, that our unrivaled greatness was made possible not because we are inherently better than any of our fellow human beings. No, our meteoric rise to glory was the result of the nation’s founding upon the fount of blessings which is Christianity.
“And like our nation, our religion has had much calumny thrown, undeservedly, in its face.
“We’re not so blind as to claim to be without sin, but if we catalogued all the crimes of Christians that can be justifiably dropped at Christendom’s door, it would be no longer, no more lamentable than the litany of abuses the Church could raise against the world’s treatment of Her. We would remind the Jew that it was he who first persecuted the Christian, that our first martyrs were condemned to tortured deaths by inquisitions of Pharisees. To the Muslim who reaches back to the crusades for the justification of his animosity against us, let him note that the Christian can reach back even farther into history, to the blood-soaked centuries of Islamic imperialism that precipitated those wars. We would remind Islam, that long before a crusader’s sword left scabbard, Jihadist armies had already sacked Rome and reached the gates of Vienna, Paris and Madrid. We would remind the secularist that the unparalleled butchery of atheist regimes has always singled out Christians as the first victims of their brutality. This has been the case since the very beginning of the church-burning, genocidal barbarism of the so-called Enlightenment.
“Christians have always been ready and willing to forgive the world its trespasses and move on. The world has not been so forgiving, except here in America.
“Since our colonial beginnings, despite the many, well known failings of Christians, Americans have acknowledged in Christianity the principle and all-pervading element and foundation for their laws, policies, customs and civil institutions. As the country grew, Christianity spread with it. The bond between the two is writ large across our nation. We can read it in Maryland, the state named in honor of the Blessed Mother of God. It is there in Corpus Christi, Las Cruces, Santa Fe, Los Angeles, as it is in the myriad of other cities, counties and streets named after the saints of Christendom. From the start, America has found in Christianity her highest ideals. In our striving to live up to those values we made our nation the envy of the world. Conversely, our abandonment of Christianity is what set us on the road to ruin.
“Today, we step off that path. Today, we declare America to be a Christian Republic, a nation under God once more, which acknowledges the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, the Lord of lords and the King of kings! The crosses that have been torn down shall be raised again. Every law that impedes the practice of Christianity is now null and void.
“Today we dissolve our bonds with a world that is hostile to both America and Christianity. We declare our independence from its culture of death.
“Today we offer the world an alternative. We ask you, our fellow Americans and you, our fellow citizens of the world; we invite you all to join with us in creating a new, pro-life civilization.
"Turn a tender eye with us to human souls when they are at their most vulnerable, innocent and most dependent on our goodwill and, we promise you, gentler yet will be the hands with which we touch each other. Reject life, insist that some human beings are disposable just because they’re in fetal form and the war of all against all will continue to curse the world with the bloodbaths of genocide. Let us choose life instead. If we can revere every member of humanity from conception through natural death we will, in short order, reorder our minds, industries and institutions, putting them to work creating a world where every life is welcomed, wanted and provided for. Reject life and it will continue to grow ever cheaper. We will continue to abandon the weak and the wounded, step over the homeless and turn deaf ears to the cries of the hungry and the tortured. Choose life, we beg you. Let us love every soul that God delivers to our keeping and all life, every great and small creature of God, the planet itself even, will yet know us as better, more thoughtful, caring stewards. Reject life and we will never be able to see each other as more than human resources, faceless statistics or worse, cannon fodder and collateral damage. Choose life and we can all, at last, become good Samaritans to each other.
“This Christmas Day, we begin again. We pray you join with us and choose life, because its alternative has and always will be war, bloodshed and death.
“Consider our offer. Talk and pray it over with family and friends. At the end of this transmission, phone lines will be opened up again so you can contact loved ones. We will continue to suppress television and the internet however, as these mediums will generate more heat than light on the subject. We will turn them back on again at the end of Christmastide. At that time we will also release all our prisoners.
“Until then, Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.”
Joe Corelli watches Colonel Pereira pick a remote control up from the desk. The Colonel aims it at the camera and pushes one of its buttons. The image from the Oval Office vanishes in a flash of snowy static. A moment later the screen lights up with an aerial view of the United Nations Tower complex in Manhattan. Two helicopters lift off from its roof and head across the East River. A third helicopter rises from the plaza and circles the tower as it climbs into the air. On the ground, the NYPD can be seen urging and pushing the crowd, thinned across the far side of First Avenue, up the side streets. A muffled explosion is heard. And then another and another; a whole series of muted blasts rock the street and plaza. People stop in their tracks and look back at the tower. Another, longer and louder series of explosions shatters the still, winter air. Windows burst outward in glinting shards from the bottom floors to the top as puffs of smoke plume out the sides of the building. People scream. Most run and some stand, transfixed. The ground rumbles. One after the other, the bottom floors of the tower buckle. The top floors fall, pancaking one atop the other, as the building shrinks. The skyscraper collapses in seconds, disappearing behind a rolling, rising cloud of impenetrable smoke and concrete dust.
A final blast splits the gray dome of the General Assembly into pieces. A great tongue of flame spits them into the air as the supporting walls collapse and crumble. Smoke and dust billow over the camera and the view is lost in a dingy white-out.
The coverage from New York is cut suddenly and the televisions return to playing ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ Jimmy Stewart is running through the black and white, small town snow-scape of Bedford Falls wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Beneath the television, the President, the Congressman, Annie and the rest of the kidnapped party stand stunned and slack-jawed.
Corelli looks down the wall of glass. The soldiers in the control room are cheering, whooping, clapping, trading high-fives and throwing their Santa caps in the air. He catches sight of Carlton Quinn. He is bear hugging two women, one in each arm. Their legs kick excitedly as he lifts them off the ground and spins in place. When he puts them down, they plant a kiss on each of his cheeks and run off to celebrate with others. Quinn looks up and catches Joe’s attention. The sniper gives him a quick grin, wink and a thumbs-up before he crosses arms at the elbows with Salvador Alvarez and the two improvise a twirling jig. Laughing soldiers wheel carts in from the four tunnels. Bottles of champagne, iced in bus tubs, sit atop the carts. Out of the north tunnel a short, wiry man with a handlebar mustache runs into the control room. He slides across a good sized length of the polished stone floor with a bottle in each raised hand. He is not in uniform but wearing a long-tailed, white tuxedo stamped with a red and green hounds-tooth pattern. a matching tophat is planted on his head. He raises the bottles of champagne high in the air and simultaneously pops the corks off each with his thumbs.
“Merry Christmas!” he shouts out.
“Merry Christmas!” the soldiers roar in reply.
Corelli turns his back on the scene. He moves past his still-struck party and takes a seat at the bench. He buries his face in his hands and tries to quiet his mind. He tries to empty it of the thoughts battling in his brain. He tries to reconcile the two disparate images of Sandi behind each warring faction. There is the girl he met in Destin, dancing in high heels, black mini and a canary feather tube top; and Sandi as Captain Castillo in combat boots, armored and armed to the teeth. The images will not reconcile themselves. When Corelli raises his head again, he notices that Annie is headed, like a sleepwalker, to her room. The President and the Congressman continue to stare at the war room turned into a discotheque of flashing lights and brassy, dance music. Beside them, Morton Gallagher and his team look upon the same scene with the same incomprehension on their faces.
Above them all, on the flat screen, George Bailey is home. He is deliriously happy, wrapped in wife and child. His eldest daughter hammers away at the family piano.
Neighbors lift their voices. “Hark, the Herald Angels sing, Glory to the new born King!”
George Bailey looks up and gives heaven a knowing wink.
Joe Corelli stares unthinking as the final scene fades and the closing music swells. He continues to stare wide and blank-eyed as Liberty Films’ logo and namesake Bell rocks, tolling behind the words, The End.
Monday, October 29, 2012
Annie Cooper would never deny that Joe Corelli is a gifted analyst. He has a Masters in computer science and is fluent in Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, Italian and French. The combination makes him invaluable to the NSA. He uses his command of the subjects to great effect at The Agency spending long hours going from one chat and web site to another in what he like to call ‘psycho hunting.’ And he is good at it too. None of it, however, makes him a likeable person. To his credit, she will grudgingly admit, Joe knows he is obnoxious. He considers it the ‘unavoidable side effect of holding his fellow man in so low a regard.’ And nothing earns someone Corelli’s opprobrium more assuredly than subscribing to what he calls, ‘herd-think.’ Joe has identified all kinds of herds and attributes to them all that’s wrong with the world. He explained his whole cockamamie world view to her recently after one scotch too many. In contrast to mere human herd-lings, Joe sees himself, he confessed proudly after two scotches too many, as a lone wolf. It is his job to thin the various herds of their psychotic, more feral members.
After working with him for the last six months, Annie believes the only reason the ‘wolf’ is a loner is because the pack, considering him an insufferable know-it-all, disowned Joe. She dismisses his abrasiveness as that species of arrogance too often found in men of his stunted stature. However, Joe’s Napoleon complex only exacerbates Annie’s antipathy for the man; it is not the source of it.
Cooper and Corelli first crossed paths two years ago when she was still in the San Francisco office of the FBI. His was just one of three names at the bottom of weekly threat analysis dispatches from the NSA office in DC. In one of those weekly assessments, Corelli’s team sent her office a request to investigate a number of gay activists groups in connection with a series of church burnings up and down the West coast. The report forwarded, as possible leads, snippets of communications gleaned from gay websites and chat rooms applauding the fires. Annie replied that she believed the church burnings to be the work of arsonists and best left for the local police and fire authorities to deal with. Cooper struck the suggestion from her office Watch List as unworthy of the FBI’s investigative resources. She added, in an email to Corelli and the other two, that their evidence was thin at best and no reason to target a community that had no ‘militant instinct.’
Joseph Corelli fired back an email that accused Annie of allowing her prejudice for her community and their politics to color her analysis and cloud her reason. She had never set eyes on him and so she was taken aback by his knowledge of her politics and sexuality. It was not something she hid, quite the contrary; but still, she could not believe that he went there. Corelli made pointed references to her sexuality and her volunteer work to help pass the Marriage Equality Act through Congress as reasons enough to question her judgment in the matter. Joe attached twenty links to the email, all of them stories of homosexual ‘bullying’ of dissenters to the Marriage Equality Act. He lambasted her claim that the homosexual community didn’t have a ‘militant instinct’ as both a ‘moronic, self-serving opinion’ and as ‘all the proof’ he needed to realize that she could not be trusted to be objective about the matter.
“In our line of work,” he wrote her “Everyone is guilty until proven innocent.”
He closed the letter by openly taunting her.
“I have talked to your superiors and they agree with my assessment. They promised me that they will insure that you will put your allegiance to your sexual minority aside long enough to do your job as instructed.”
She was livid but her boss insisted she carry out the investigation. Months later, the wound was salted when Corelli was proven correct. Seven gay men who called themselves the Krewe of Thebes were found to be responsible for the acts of arson. To make matters worse, she was paired up with Joe six months ago when she was assigned to the joint task force investigating the military. He never brought up their past, except obliquely. It was there all the same, however, in his sneering regard of her.
Things would be different now. She was right about the Christians. Joe was wrong and she was right. Corelli’s sneer is gone, she notes. He is sitting silently on the bench a few seats from her, sullen and sulking. He is staring out across the cavernous control room, the fingertips of his right hand resting lightly and seemingly absent-mindedly, a few inches below his sternum. Maybe not so absent-mindedly, Annie thinks suddenly. Joe does wear a small, gold crucifix around his neck. The cross hangs at about the sternum. It is a keepsake from him grandmother, Joe explained when she asked about it months ago. Regardless of its source, it now fed Annie’s suspicions. President O’Neill seemed to believe Corelli’s account of his relationship with Captain Castillo. Congressman Reed did too. Annie is reserving judgment. There is no telling how deep these lunatic Christians have infiltrated government. Annie decides that she would be foolish to trust Joe.
Corelli could easily be one of them.
Annie Cooper has fought them, Christians, all her life. They were hostile to everything she is and believes in. Starting with her own parents, Christians have antagonized Annie from the beginning. She never forgave her mother and father for what they put her through those last few years she lived with them in Joplin Texas. They made a living hell of her high school years, but that was the least of their crimes against their only daughter. Annie would always hold her parents responsible for the untimely death of her first love, Alicia. She would never forgive them for it.
Annie and Alicia became friends in Tae Kwon Do class halfway through junior high. By the first year in high school they were inseparable, and that is how her parents found them in bed. It was their first time. They hadn’t even gotten their clothes off when Annie’s mother opened the door unexpectedly and screamed as if she had walked in on a murder scene. Her father raced up the stairs and stood for what seemed an eternity in the doorway, his face frozen in a mask of disgust and contempt. Together, Annie’s parents separated the two of them violently and Annie’s father beat her in Alicia’s presence, humiliating the two of them. They told Alicia’s parents, who in turn, not only beat her severely, but also sent her to a special church summer camp in the hope of ridding her of the ‘demons’ of depraved sexuality.
Poor Alicia, sensitive as she was lovely, was never the same. Cowed and her spirit broken, she was too ashamed to seek Annie’s company again. Alicia dropped out of Tae Kwon Do and avoided Annie at school. She rarely left the house at all, not wanting to face the cruel taunting of fellow students and did her level best to keep her nose buried in the Bible as her parents insisted. Alicia threw herself into the Bible studies and other church activities, trying to win back her parents’ affections or maybe even purge herself of desires that were not going to go away. Annie Cooper didn’t know. The two were reduced to communicating only in the most perfunctory of manners at the Pentecostal church where their parents attended. As much as she hated the weekly services, Annie went faithfully and even happily as it was another chance to feast her eyes on Alicia. Every week Annie arrived at the church hoping to see in her eyes some sign that she still wanted her, still loved her; but every week she left disheartened and angry.
It was the toughest year of Annie Cooper’s youth. She fought constantly, in and out of school, exacting broken teeth and bloody noses from every leer the boys shot her way. She wanted nothing from them. All Annie wanted was Alicia and she never abandoned the hope that one day, when they were older and free of their parents, they would continue where they left off. Alicia, Annie was sure, was living a lie and she would eventually tire of it and come back to her. Annie was certain of it until the end, when she learned that her darling Alicia hung herself from her bedroom’s ceiling fan. It happened the week after school let out for the summer, a week before Alicia was scheduled to return to Bible Camp.
The news devastated Annie. For the first time in her life, Annie Cooper became intimately familiar with hate. It was not the hatred of others projected out at the world at large, nothing like the hatred of her parents for what she was and had done; no, it was a hatred of her own creation, born of her own pain and fed by her own sense and grasp of the injustice she felt she would always have to face. That injustice, the young Cooper believed, sprung from the certainty with which religious fundamentalists challenged the world. Their positions were invulnerable to dissuasion. So be it, she decided at that young age. So be it. Annie swore she would forever meet their callous certainty with an absolutism of her own.
At Alicia’s funeral she interrupted the preacher to accuse the congregation of murdering her. She denounced her parents and Alicia’s as small-minded, sexually repressed fascists. She derided the congregation as superstitious Neanderthals. Annie spat curses on their religion and let loose a tirade of expletives even as her father dragged her out of church. Out in the parking lot she concentrated her fire on him. He tried to silence his daughter with the back of his hand when she refused his order to “Shut up, already!”
Annie surprised herself when she not only ducked under his blow but, lunged at him and buried her knee into his groin. The back of her fist crashed into his ear on his way down to the pavement. Annie Cooper always thought back to that moment, standing over her father balled up at her feet, as the beginning of her life, a life she would live openly in the face of all prejudice.
“You touch me again and I will kill you in your sleep,” she yelled at him in full view of her mother and the parishioners gawking from the church doors. “You so much as raise a hand to me and I swear to you, I will cut your throat the next time you pass out drunk in the house.”
The threat seemed to hit her father harder than the knee to the groin. He looked at her through eyes squinting and watering with pain, no longer able to recognize the gangly young woman glaring down at him. Annie barely recognized herself at that moment. She walked away from her father hardly believing what she had done and said, but all the same glad that she gave her rage expression.
Her father never raised a hand against her again. He barely looked at her and certainly never said a word to her. Her mother tried to make peace but Annie ignored her every entreaty, leaving the woman to stew alone in her misery. Six months later, Annie had her GED diploma in hand and the dust of Joplin Texas off her heels. She left her parents without ceremony or good bye and settled in San Francisco.
More than a thousand miles from home, Annie Cooper began life anew. She threw herself whole-heartedly into politics, both in her studies and in extra-curricular activities. To her pleasant surprise, after a youth spent feeling ostracized, dismissed and ignored, Annie was being listened to, taken seriously; and by her final year in school, she was a leader in the alternative lifestyle campaign that legalized gay marriage in California despite the popular referendums against it. She then went on to work in the national campaign that pushed The Marriage Equality Act through Congress in the spring of 2015. She took great pride in her work and joy as it pitted Annie against the very sort of Christian fundamentalists that tortured her childhood. Through her work, Annie got to make connections with future power players on the national scene. Danny Manny, former Mayor of San Francisco and presently California’s first gay governor was one of them. Through him, Cooper met Holly Villa while the then Senator was campaigning with William O’Neill for the White House.
It was Holly Villa who convinced Annie to put her organizational and administrative skills to use for the FBI.
“It won’t be easy,” the Senator warned her over breakfast after their first tryst. “These law enforcement agencies are the last bastions of the patriarchal mindset that have made life all but impossible for women like us, women who insist on owning their own bodies.”
Annie Cooper didn’t need much convincing. Her work for gay and lesbian issues, while personally rewarding, was mostly done as a volunteer. The little money she could squeeze out of government grants was not paying the bills she was accruing. The story of two gay playwrights beheaded in their Chicago apartment by homegrown Islamists offended by the portrayal of Muhammad in the lover’s musical was still in the news. The job offered her would pit her against such fundamentalists and pay her well for the privilege.
It was a no-brainer. Annie Cooper took the job.
And now, four years later, she is once again powerless in the clutches of religious fundamentalists. She hates the feeling. It’s why she accepted Sergeant Burnett’s challenge. The fight will allow some release of the anxiety building in her. Annie knows it in her bones; if these psycho Christians talking about crusades and inquisitions get their way, if this coup of theirs succeeds, all the gains of the last fifty years will be lost. The prospect angers Annie Cooper. She rubs the tender bruise the stun baton left on her side. The prospect also frightens her a little. She shakes it off and rises from her seat on the bench.
Corelli rises suddenly from his seat as well, his attention focused sharply on the monitors ahead of him. Annie turns to follow his gaze. She notes that the endless looping of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ has stopped, replaced by a shot of the White House.“Mr. President,” Annie says. “I think we’re finally going to hear from the Colonel.”