The Holy Father
The oil tanker moved slowly to within site of
Philip stared at the ancient city and wondered aloud, "How could it
come to this?" Not only lay people have died, but thousands of Priests,
Nuns, Bishops, and Cardinals. Merlin seemed to know a lot about what had
All Philip knew was that Pope Benedict XVI was shot and killed by an
Italian born Moslem in a response to a call for his death. He was killed during a meeting of his
Cardinals. The Moslem road into the Sistine Chapel between two hundred
Cardinals; shot Pope Benedict with a machine gun, and then 47 Cardinals before
blowing himself up with a hand grenade strapped to his motorbike. Even before
the Pope was buried, a new pope was elected by the remaining Cardinals. The new pope was only a priest and not a
bishop, but he was a Cardinal. He was a
theological advisor to the conference from a
Why, though, would this new Pope return to
Simon suddenly appeared on the deck. He was wearing his white robe and with his right hand he gripped that frightening cannon. Respectfully, he asked, "Are you ready?"
Merlin looked at Philip and suggested, "I think you should change clothes."
Philip almost laughed. He was wearing blue denims, a blue hooded sweatshirt, and blue tennis shoes. In contrast, Merlin looked like a bum. He guessed that his attire was a little too casual for a visit to the Pope, but the dark brown, hooded robe that Merlin wore wasn’t any better. The ends of his long sleeves were frayed and the hem was all but gone. He had a rope for a belt, with a long black Rosary that was also made of rope and tucked under the belt. What a sight!
After Philip regained his composure, he replied teasingly, "I think I'll go as I am or I'll make you look bad. Besides, with all I see from here, I think it would be healthier to be dressed for speed than for image."
"As you wish," Merlin replied, shaking his head.
"Then let's go!" Simon insisted as he motioned to one of the hands standing by an electric panel. The hand pulled a lever and the chopper soon appeared. Simon opened the glass door. Philip helped Merlin up and climbed in behind him. Simon went around and mounted on his side. He started the blades swirling and then sat for a minute looking at the morning sky.
Soon, two solid black Apache AHH-64 helicopters, just like Simon's,
appeared along both sides of the oil tanker. Merlin did not even blink, but
they scared Philip almost to death. He jumped with a start and hit his head on
the roof of the cockpit. Simon smiled at the
The sun sat atop the mountains now and shone directly into their eyes.
Philip could not see straight ahead, so he looked down. The city looked like it
had been nuked repeatedly, but Philip knew that most of the damage had been
Before Philip knew it, they were hovering over the great
The papal apartments were just gone, the first casualty of war. The museum had been looted, and whatever could not be carried out was laid waste. The chapel named after Pope Sixtus IV had been sacked. The work of Roselli, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio, Signorelli, and of course Michelangelo was mostly lost forever. The once spectacular, imposing ceiling had collapsed. Ominously, though, the figure of Christ on the back wall, sitting in Final Judgment of the world, seemed to radiate out of the confusion. The demons reaching up for the damned must have turned and smiled hideously as the sons of man devastated the artistry of their forefathers on their way to their well-deserved eternal reward. Significantly, the tombs of the popes had not been opened, and their sacred bones rested still in the sanctuary of St. Peter’s lower level. But everywhere else there was destruction, as if Satan himself could no longer be restrained by the hand of God. But Philip knew better than that. God had merely released the leash a little; the ancient serpent was merely in the process of strangling himself with the surplus line.
The two support choppers dropped to within a few feet of the ground and spun around very slowly. The few people in the square ran away as quickly as they could. The right chopper stopped moving for a moment and sat suspended in the air, pointing at the ruins to the entrance to the square. Suddenly, both machine guns spat fiery rounds through the entrance and down the long street as a warning, making sure they hit nobody. Finally, it settled down and stopped its blades, but kept its guns trained on the entrance. The second chopper landed near the steps of the Basilica.
Simon spun his bird around very slowly, looking very carefully all around. Finally, he lowered it to the ground between the other two, waited a minute while performing a final scan, and then shut off the engine.
"Wait here a minute," Simon said as he grabbed his M-60 and stepped down slowly from his seat. He walked around the chopper with a firm grip on the machine gun. Everything was quiet. He lowered his weapon and raised his right hand. One by one, over forty men stepped into the open square, Each had strange looking automatic weapons. They were specially made with movable spring loaded barrels and electronically shot. They could be changed from 9mm to 50 caliber and because of the spring barrels still hand held. Each stepped forward to within 40 feet of the chopper. They then stopped and formed a circle, saying nothing.
From the top steps of the great Basilica of St. Peter a man appeared dressed just like the rest of them, except that he had no gun. He walked quickly down the steps towards Simon. They hugged each other like old friends and talked for a few seconds. Simon looked at Philip and with an upward turned palm, pointed his hand at Philip.
Philip watched in wonder. Simon and the other man started towards the
chopper door. It was obvious that, whoever these men were, they went through a
lot of trouble to get Philip here, and get him here safely. But who were they?
They had kidnapped him and his family from
Simon opened the door, and Philip stepped down. The other man said nothing but kept staring at him. They went around and helped Merlin down. "Je m’appelle Pierre de Saint Clair, Abbe de l’Ordre," he informed Philip as he bowed before him.
"That's a fancy name." Philip thought, "What does it mean and what is the Order?" But he only replied, "Oh! You speak French?"
"Yes!" He bowed his head again and pointed towards St. Peter's dome. "Shall we go?"
Philip followed him up the long steps, carefully stepping around the fallen columns and pieces of statue. When they reached the top of the steps, Philip realized for the first time that the roof of The Greatest Roman Catholic Church on Earth was partially gone, except for the dome and the Altar. The Church was in the shape of a cross, with the dome and the Altar at the center. They were walking down the long marble floor of the nave where thousands of Cardinals once gathered for the councils, where hundreds of Popes and kings had walked, where thousands of saints had stood in awe of the majesty and the beauty. But now the roof was damaged, the walls were bare and scarred, the internal statues were damaged, and the Pieta was splattered with paint.
At last they reached the Altar. The four twisted gold pillars still supported Bernini’s canopy, and together with the Altar they sat beneath the great dome, barely held up by the remaining pillars and walls! St. Peter's tomb was still there, beneath the canopy, untouched. Steps led directly down to it, and Philip descended without asking permission. He knelt down on one knee and bowed his head in front of the tomb. After a moment of prayer, he rose and climbed back up the stairs, went around the three men to the main Altar, and climbed the steps to the top. He then knelt down on both knees before the Tabernacle and bowed down to the marble floor. He remained in that position praying for a few minutes, pleading for an end to this global madness and suffering, for an end to the persecution of the Church, an end to the millions and millions of deaths.
He made the sign of the cross and lifted his head from the floor, but remained on his knees. The sun shot rays of light all through the Altar and it bounced off the golden pillars like lasers. Philip's eyes had been closed, so it was difficult to focus at first, but as he strained them through the brightness, he became aware of a long white robe directly in front of him. He squinted and looked up. It was The Holy Father.
Pope Benedict stood right in front of Philip, only a few feet away. He wore a white robe with a wide white belt, a white Rosary, and a white cap on top of black curly hair. His skin was black and his eyes were sparkling and soft. In his left hand was a gold staff curved at the top like a shepherd's stick, and in his right hand was a large sword, golden from top to bottom with red and blue stones in the cross-shaped handle. The tip sat on the floor, and Benedict held the top forward and to one side.
Philip did not attempt to get up nor did he want to speak! He had never been in the presence of the Holy Father before, even though he had been to St. Peter's many times.
"You are Philip Von Habsburg?" Benedict questioned very softly.
"Yes," Philip answered softly, quickly realizing that he had addressed the Holy Father rather badly and then adding, "Your …. Your Holiness."
"I have longed to see you face to face. Yes, at last we meet as I knew we would one day. For many years the popes before me have waited for you."
"Your Holiness, I do not even know you, let alone know that you were looking for me." Philip was still kneeling, but now only on one knee.
"Bow your head for my blessing." With the help of Simon, the black shinned Pope raised the large sword and laid it on Philip's right shoulder.
"By the power vested
in me from God through Peter and all his successors throughout the centuries, I
proclaim you King of
Philip had started to rise to protest, but the sword was heavy. When the blessing was concluded, Simon helped remove the sword from his shoulder, and Philip stood. It was then he realized how tall the Holy Father was in stature, tall and thin.
"Most Holy and Sweet Father, I don't know what all this means, but I am just a husband and father. I want nothing more of this world than to be left with my family in peace. My grandfather was king, but I do not have his qualities, nor his ambitions. He was a saint of a man, as was my father, but I…my Lord, I have been…a great sinner."
"My poor sweet friend, I have not picked you. God selected you from the beginning of time, just as He selected Moses, and not because Moses deserved it! Quite the contrary, Moses was a coward and wanted no part in God's plans. But he obeyed, as will you."
Philip ran his hand through his hair and shook his head from side to
side. "No! No! No! How can I be king of
"Philip, Philip, Philip! Oh man of little faith! We are taught by the words of the Gospel that in this Church and in its power there are two swords, a spiritual and a temporal one. For when the Apostles said, 'Behold, here are two swords, the Lord did not reply that it was too many, but enough! He who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter, has wrongly understood the Word of the Lord when He says: 'Put up again thy sword into its place.' Therefore, both are in the power of the Church: the one, indeed, to be wielded BY the Church, and the other FOR the Church. The former rests in the hand of the priest, the latter is wielded by the hand of kings and knights at the behest of the priest. For it is necessary that one sword should be under another, and that the temporal authority should be subjected to the spiritual, for the Apostle says, 'There is no power but from God and those powers that are, are ordained of God."
Philip dropped to his knees again and looked up at the Holy Father with bewilderment in his eyes, "Be it done unto me according to your will, Your Holiness, but I have no idea what to do."
"Go with Father Merlin and he will show you," replied Benedict, turning towards Pierre de Saint Clair and taking a leather folder from him.
"This is my official de fide declaration that you are now King of
France, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, and King of
Philip took the binder in both hands and looked down at it with glassy eyes. He turned towards Simon. The Giant handed him a beautiful emerald studded, golden crown. Benedict placed it on Philip's head.
"This is the crown of St. Steven. It has been preserved these many
years for this moment. May the blessings of St. Steven go with you. And this is the sword of Joseph of Arimethea. May it
help you defeat all the enemies of
"But what about you, Holy Father?"
"I will be safe here in
Philip walked down the steps of the altar and out the violated side wall of the dome without turning back. Twelve men in white robes with red crosses followed behind him, their strange looking guns at the ready.
Outside, Philip stood in disbelief. Blue denim slacks, blue sweatshirt, tennis shoes, a golden crown, a golden sword, and real tears made of him a silly spectacle. What now for this reluctant 40 year-old king?