Wednesday was Fr. Santiago Moreno’s day off which he always used to visit the families of his parish in the south east district of Madrid. He had spent all morning with Maria who was battling lung cancer and the rest of her family in the Santa Cruz hospital. She had just come out of another chemo procedure when father arrived, and she lay motionless most of the morning, being drained of all her energy. Fr. Santiago took advantage to administer the sacrament of the anointing of the sick and then sat with Maria’s husband and three children for a while, talking about their family, their faith and just about anything. Though some priests might find these visits hard or even burdensome, he always enjoyed being with his people when they were in need.
By 12:00 he was back in his car heading towards the Palacio apartments where Miguel and Ana lived. They were a newly-wedded couple that Fr. Santiago helped prepare for marriage. Miguel had asked him if he could come by to bless their new apartment and then stay for lunch. Stepping out of the car he reached back in for his holy water and a small gift he had purchased for the new family. The apartment was only a year old and had a very modern touch which left most of the walls barren, and a few oddly shaped furniture floating around the reception. He passed a statue that looked like someone poured tar over a tiny tree and waited for it to harden. Trying to make sense of what it could be, he proceeded towards the elevator and sailed up the twelve floors to meet his friends.
“Welcome Father!” said Miguel as he opened the door and helped him with his coat. “Please make yourself at home.” They spoke for a little while until Fr. Moreno said, “Well, we had better get this apartment blessed before we do anything else.” He pulled out his holy water and a small book of prayers from his bag and, placing a stole around his neck, began the blessing.
Once he had finished he pulled out the small gift he brought and offered it to Ana. “Here is a small gift for the both of you. I thought you might need something to fill up your walls with.” While they un-wrapped their gift Fr. Santiago looked out the glass door upon the commotion and disorder of the city of Madrid. “Father, you shouldn’t have!” said Ana as she held up a beautiful icon of the Virgin Mary, thinking of where she might put it. They both thanked him and then offered him something to drink. “Water will be fine.” He said as he walked closer to the balcony. “Would it be alright if I went outside to have a look?” “Sure father” said Miguel, “Be my guest.”
He opened the door, letting in a wave of noise from the streets below. He wanted to get a birds-eye-view of his beloved city and hoped to see the Real Madrid soccer stadium from here. Instead his attention turned to what was happening directly below him near the entrance of the apartment building. At least seven police cars and three fire trucks had blocked off the road. Men in uniform were running frantically here and there, talking on their radios while bystanders looked on. But, what was mostly surprising was that they were all looking up at him.
“What is going on.” He thought, while people pointed in his direction. He heard faint voices above, and that was when it all clicked. He rushed back into the apartment and paid no attention to Ana who came bringing him his water. He sprinted to the door and left in a flash. Finding the stairwell, he climbed four flights before he ran into a wall of police and medics who had closed off the 16th floor. “Please let me through, I’m a priest.” He told the first policeman he saw. “Sorry father but we were given strict orders not to let anyone through.” came the answer. Fr. Santiago insisted, asking the man to speak with whoever was in charge. While waiting he overheard a policewoman say, “What we really need are psychologists. In America the police have psychologists for this sort of thing.” All he could do was pray as he waited for the policeman to return.
After five minutes the officer came back and told Fr. Santiago that he was authorized and that he would take him to the room. The two of them rushed past several firemen and policemen until they got out onto the balcony. There he saw a young man who couldn’t have been more than 18 hanging over the ledge while holding on with his hands. Two officers had been trying to talk with him for the last 20 minutes but to no avail. Fr. Santiago asked them both to go back into the apartment so that he could be alone with the young man. He approached the ledge and said, “Good afternoon. I’m Fr. Santiago.” There was no answer and the kid kept staring down at the street below. “Look, son. Don’t do this. You don’t know how much God loves you.” “The last thing he would want to do is for you to take your life.”
All that could be heard was the sound of cars, horns and the hustle and bustle of the city below. “What’s your name?” asked Fr. Santiago. “Xavier” he said. It was the first word he had said in the last hour.
“Xavier. That’s the name of a saint. Are you Catholic?”
“Well, Xavier, I’m a priest and I wanted to come here and tell you how much God loves you and that no matter how you feel or whatever has happened he will still love you.”
“Why don’t we come inside and we can talk, just you and me.”
No answer came from Xavier. His eyes continued to look down as he thought about what father had said. Just as Fr. Santiago was thinking about what else to say, Xavier turned to father and lifted one of his hands from the railing. Fr. Santiago grabbed it and helped him back over the balcony. Hand in hand they both walked back into the apartment and sat down as policemen looked on. There Fr. Santiago talked with him about God’s mercy and his unending love. About how Xavier was a special child of God and that God would never abandon him. He stayed with Xavier for the next half hour before the police took over. Fr. Santiago said his goodbyes promising to stay in touch. He made his way towards the stairwell and back to his friends Miguel and Ana. As he walked down the hallway he passed the same policewoman. Looking at her he said, “You’re right. The American police have psychologists. But they don’t have priests!”
Thomas A. Flynn, LC studies for the priesthood at the Pontifical Atheneum Regina Apostolorum in Rome. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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