THE FIRST MOTHER
by J. B. Tilton
Detective John Greer was a typical police detective in most respects. But when he foils an apparent kidnapping he's thrust back into a world he had left behind long ago. A world that will make him question his beliefs and quite possibly put the lives of millions of people at risk.
The woman was dressed in the traditional habit of a Catholic nun. Cautiously, almost timidly, she stepped up to the desk behind which sat a Catholic priest dressed in the traditional black cassock. He looked up from the papers he was going over and smiled at her.
"What can I do for you, sister?" asked the priest.
"I must see the Holy Father at once. Time is growing short. I was told I had to see Cardinal Sodano to gain an audience with the Holy Father. I must be granted audience immediately. There's no time to waste."
"I'm sorry, sister, but Cardinal Sodano is in a meeting right now. As I'm sure you know, the Holy Father is about to embark on a three-month good will tour. Cardinal Sodano is putting the last touches on the pope's itinerary. I could schedule an appointment for you later next week if you'd like."
"That will be too late," replied the frantic nun, looking at the door that led to Cardinal Sodano's private office. "I must speak with him immediately. You don't understand. I must see the Holy Father right away."
"I'm sorry, sister, but that's totally out of," began the priest.
Before he could finish his sentence the nun suddenly turned and moved through the door to the Cardinals' office. As she entered she saw four men sitting in the room. Behind a large elaborate desk sat Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the current Dean of the College of Cardinals and the most senior Cardinal in the Catholic Church. He was dressed in the typical garb of a Cardinal: a black cassock with scarlet piping and buttons, scarlet sash, pectoral cross on a chain, and a scarlet zucchetto, similar to a Jewish yarmulke. The other three, sitting in front of the desk, were dressed as ordinary Catholic priests.
"Forgive my intrusion, Your Eminence," said the nun, kneeling to the Cardinal and kissing his ring, "but it is imperative that I speak to the Holy Father at once. There is no time to lose. I must be granted audience immediately."
"Calm down, my child," said Sodano, consoling the nun. "I'm sure you're aware that the Holy Father is about to leave for an extended visit abroad. His plane leaves in less than three hours and he simply does not have the time for an audience right now."
"I'm sorry, Your Eminence," said the priest from the outer room apologetically. "She just rushed right in."
"It's okay, Terrance. I'll take care of it."
The priest returned to his duties in the outer office. As he did, another priest entered through a door in the back of the room. He was looking over what appeared to be a large ledger. At first he didn't see the nun half obscured, kneeling behind the Cardinal's desk.
"I think I've found what we were looking for," said the priest just entering the room. "According to the archives, Pope Pius X once. . . ."
His voice trailed off as the noticed the nun who looked up at him. A look of recognition crossed her face.
"Sister Mary-Elizabeth?" questioned the new priest. "What are you doing here?"
"Father Connors," replied the nun, a note of relief in her voice. "Thank God you're here. I must see the Holy Father immediately. Time grows very short."
"The Reverend Mother?" questioned Connors.
"She sent me. She said it's time."
"Gentlemen," said Connors, turning to the three priests sitting in front of the Cardinal's desk, "if you'll excuse us, please. This is something that Cardinal Sodano needs to take care of immediately."
Father Peter Connors was the personal assistant to Cardinal Sodano. When he spoke, he spoke with the authority of the Cardinal himself. It was tantamount to speaking for the Pope himself. The three men, confused, left the room. After the door had closed, Father Connors moved to the Cardinal's desk.
"Peter?" questioned Sodano. "What's going on here? You know how important this trip is. And how important the Pope's itinerary is. We have to get it finished before he leaves."
"Yes, Your Eminence," replied Connors, "but Sister Mary-Elizabeth is right. She must be granted audience to the Holy Father immediately. If she's here there's no time to waste."
"Peter you obviously know this woman well. And I don't mean to be curt but at the moment the most important business we have is the trip which the Holy Father . . . ."
"Forgive me, Your Eminence," said Connors, cutting the Cardinal off, "but this must take precedence."
It took Sodano by surprise. One just didn't interrupt a Cardinal of the Catholic Church and certainly not the Dean of the College of Cardinals. But Connors had been with Sodano since the latter had become the Dean in 2005. He knew if Connors was interrupting him it must be important.
"I don't understand," replied Sodano. "What's so important that it must supersede a trip which His Holiness has been planning for over a year?"
"Perhaps a formal introduction is needed," said Connor. "His Eminence, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, I'd like to present to you Sister Mary-Elizabeth Dowling, senior nun at the Holy Covenant Convent. The convent of the Holy Order of the Reverend Mother."
"Holy Covenant?" questioned Sodano. "Then that means . . . ."
His voice trailed off as he reached for the phone on his desk.
"Thank God you were here, Father Connors," said Sister Mary-Elizabeth. "It will make explaining things much easier. I only hope we can convince His Eminence to grant me an audience with His Holiness."
"No need," said Connors, putting his hand on the nun's shoulder to console her. "Cardinal Sodano is the senior Cardinal of the Church. He's already been briefed on your convent. He knows how important this is."
"Look," said Sodano, talking on the phone, "I realize His Holiness is preparing for his trip abroad. I'm the one who made all the arrangements, remember? Please tell him I must see him immediately on urgent Church business. . . .I know what his instructions are. This cannot wait. I must see him immediately. . . .Look, just tell the Holy Father I'm coming down RIGHT NOW and I'm bringing Sister Mary-Elizabeth Dowling of the Holy Covenant Convent with me. We'll be there in five minutes."
The Cardinal placed the phone back on its' cradle.
"Let's go," he said to the priest and nun. "By the time we get there we'll have an audience with the Holy Father."
"Thank you, Your Eminence," said Dowling. "I wasn't sure how difficult it was going to be to see him."
"He's aware of who you are and what you do," said Sodano. "He also knows if you're here then you must see him immediately. When we get there, you'll have to go in alone. Just be reverent and answer his questions as honestly as you can. He'll want to know everything. When you're finished there will be a car waiting to take you to the airport and a plane ready to take you back to the United States. I assume you'll be wanting to return immediately."
"Yes, Your Eminence. Thank you. Thank you very much."
"No, sister, I am the one who is thankful. I'm just the Dean of the College of Cardinals. Compared to what you do, I hardly matter. Peter, I want to go with Sister Mary-Elizabeth to the United States. Give her whatever assistance she needs. I'll pass the word that you're working directly for His Holiness and you're to be given all possible assistance."
"Yes, Your Eminence," replied Connors. "I'll go pack immediately. Sister, when you're through with the Holy Father I'll meet you in the Cardinal's office. Don't be nervous. His Holiness can be quite personable."
Father Connors immediately left to pack what he would need for the trip. The nun just smiled a weak smile. Very few people actually were granted an audience with the Pope. And even fewer met with him in his private chambers. It was a great deal to take in for a simple nun.
As they approached the door to the Pontiff's private chambers a priest stood outside. He had a perplexed look on his face. As the Cardinal and nun approached the door, he bowed slightly to Sodano.
"His Holiness will see you immediately," he said, a note of confusion in his voice. "He says you're to go right in."
"Remember," said Sodano to Dowling, "just tell him everything. When you're done Father Bishop will see that you get back to my office."
Father Bishop, the personal assistant to the Pontiff, bowed slightly and smiled at the nun. Cautiously she approached the door and then gingerly knocked on it. From inside the room the three could hear a voice say, "come in". Sister Dowling glanced back at Cardinal Sodano, then opened the door and entered the room