The Echo of Silence

     Only time will tell what is true and what is a myth.  That time has arrived.  In my dreams, I see your face in the mist, and I am moved to tears.  You came to seek progress and harmony among mortal men, and this is what you found.

      No, not a long time ago.

      Nobody knew where he came from.  Everybody speculated, but it was just rumors, nothing but rumors.  He was different from us.  He used to hang around in markets and areas where the poor people lived.  Some people made fun of him and branded him as an insane man preaching nonsense. 

      Societies establish priorities that rarely change.  Sometimes, habits are stronger than common sense.  Societies like to celebrate so the people don’t forget their roots.

      The celebration of the Passion Play was ready to take place somewhere.  The specific place doesn’t matter.  It was just another place.  Usually, the Passion Play is held as it happened, with no changes, but not this time.  No!  Not this time.

      The town was ready for the most important celebration.  People get really excited.  It is a unique opportunity to try to clarify where our beliefs come from and where we go from there.

The church plays the main role in the arrangement to be sure that everything goes smoothly and according to the script.

      Father Guiseppe was the one in charge of the Passion Play, and a large number of assistants were available to help him.  Luigi was his main helper.

      Father Guiseppe:  “Luigi, is everything ready?  We have only a few days left.”

      Luigi responded reluctantly.  “Well, we have a really big problem.  Livio, the man that usually plays Jesus’ role, has been sick lately, and I am afraid he will not be able to play his role.”

      Father Guiseppe: “Oh!  I cannot believe it!  Why haven’t you mentioned it?  You know that it is almost impossible to find someone to play that role!  This is really bad news. What can we do?  Can he at least do the ending?  He has been doing this for years!  He knows all of the dialogue by heart, and people just love him.  We have a really big problem.  I cannot believe that you didn’t mention anything, Luigi!  I just can’t believe it!”

      Luigi responded, “Well, Father, we have an option.  I don’t know if you will like it.”

      Father Guiseppe: “What is that?  Please explain your option, Luigi.”

      Luigi explained, “I have seen this vagabond hanging around in the market and spending the night in several places.  Some people feed him and give him clothes.  I guess, if I ask him, he would be more than happy to make a few bucks.”

      Father Guiseppe: “Tell me more about him.  What else do you know?”

      Luigi:  “People say he was brought to this town by someone.  At the beginning, they thought that he was insane, but he is a harmless man.  He speaks very little, and it seems like children just love him.”

      Father Guiseppe: “Do you think he will be able to learn the script?  We don’t have much time.  When can I meet him?”

      Luigi announced, “I am on my way to look for him.  I will do my best.”

      Father Guiseppe: “Do more than your best this time, Luigi.  I am not pleased with your work so far.”

      Luigi left the church praying that he will find the stranger, and asked here and there for information.  Finally, he found the man preaching to a group of folks.  He apologized for interrupting and introduced himself.

      “Hi!  My name is Luigi.  I work for the church.  I wonder if you will have some time to talk to Father Guiseppe.  He would like to offer you a special job.  We desperately need someone like you.”

      The stranger looked at Luigi and told him, “I will be there this afternoon.”

      Luigi pleaded, “But, we need . . .  Never mind.  We will wait for you.

      Luigi went back to the church with empty hands.  Well, almost empty hands.  He tried to find a polite way to explain what happened with the stranger.

      Father Guiseppe: “Well, what happened, Luigi?”

      “He will be here this afternoon,” Luigi replied.

      Father Guiseppe:  “He isn’t that desperate for a job or money, it appears.”

     Luigi shrugged his shoulders and said, “He will be here.  I know.”

      Later in the evening, the stranger arrived at the church.  Luigi went to call Father Guiseppe.

      “Father, he is here.  He is waiting for you,” Luigi announced.

     Deep inside, Father Guiseppe was curious to meet the man that people talked about and who was taking away the Father’s popularity.

      Father Guiseppe walked up to the stranger and introduced himself.  “Hello.  I am Father Guiseppe.”

      For the first time, his voice sounded weak in front of that man with long hair, blue eyes, and peaceful presence.

      Father Guiseppe:  “You look familiar to me.  Have we met before?”

      The stranger answered “Probably,” with his deep, soft tone, that made Father Guiseppe feel even more fragile.

      Father Guiseppe asked politely, “Do you have a name?”

      He:  “My name does not matter.  I don’t think that is the reason you want to see me.”

      “You are right,” Father Guiseppe responded.  “I will go straight to the matter of this.  We are looking for someone to play the role of Jesus in the Passion Play presentation.  The person that usually plays his role is sick, and we are afraid that he will not be able to do it.  Are you familiar with the role?”

      He:  “Yes, yes.  I am familiar with that.”

      Father Guiseppe:  “We will pay you handsomely.  You will have a safe place to sleep and food.  Does that sound good to you?  I will give you the script that you have to learn.”

      “That’s fine,” he answered. 

      Father Guiseppe:  “You are welcome to stay in the church.  It is getting late and cold.”

      He:  “Give me the script.  I will be here on time for the presentation.  I have a few things to do.”

      Father Guiseppe: “You don’t have to go.  It is already dark.”

      He:  “Sometimes, I feel better in the dark.”

      “Well, it is up to you.  Here is the script,” Father Guiseppe responded.

      The stranger took the script and disappeared in the darkness of the night.

      Father Guiseppe, still trying to recuperate from the impression created by that man, said , “Well, he is an unusual man, Luigi.  I hope that he shows up.”

      Luigi:  “He will.  He will.  But as you may have noticed, he is taller and heavier than Livio.  I am afraid that the old cross that we use will not be strong enough for the final act.  It could break.”

      Father Guiseppe: “So what do you suggest, Luigi?  Why do I have to hear all the bad news at the last minute?”

      Luigi replied, “I am thinking that my cousin, Giovanni, will be able to make one with some metal parts.  It is impossible to make one of wood with only two days left.  Anyway, it will be used just for the final part.”

      Father Guiseppe:  “Your cousin Giovanni?  Isn’t that the insane man that sees ghosts all the time?”

      Luigi:  “He is not insane.  Sometimes, he talks to himself, but he is a good worker.”

     Father Guiseppe:  “Do I have a choice?”

     “I am afraid not,” Luigi answered.

      Father Guiseppe:  “Be sure that the cross is strong enough and well made.”

      “You can count on it,” Luigi said.

      When the day arrived, everybody tried to check the last details of the play, but there was no sign of the stranger.  Father Guiseppe was getting very impatient.  A huge crowd had already gathered to see the Passion Play. 

      Father Guiseppe:  “Luigi, where is he?  He was supposed to be here hours ago!”

      Before Luigi could answer, there the man was, dressed in a white robe.  Looking at him, he imposed silence and respect.  In front of him, it seemed that time stopped, and nothing else mattered any more.

      When it was time for the play to start, there would be a long way to carry the cross at the end.  Every single detail was tailored to perfection.  It was an opportunity for Father Guiseppe and his crew to shine.  Father Guiseppe would follow him reading Biblical passages. 

      As the man started walking with his cross, the crowd started to whisper among themselves that this was the best presentation that they had ever witnessed.  Emotions ran high. 

      A man dressed in Roman costume was lashing the stranger now and then.  Every single time that he was lashed, Giovanni confronted the man with the whip. 

      Giovanni:  “Hey, hey!  Easy with those lashes!  You are going to hurt him.”

     Everybody knew that Giovanni had mental problems, and the man dressed as a Roman lashed the stranger harder and more often to make Giovanni mad.

     Giovanni:  “Hey, hey!  You are hurting him!  Be careful with that whip,” forcing Father Guiseppe to intervene.

      Father Guiseppe:  “Please tell Giovanni to let the man do his job.  He is slowing down the procession, and the sun is blistering hot.”

      Everybody was trying to get a look at the stranger, and the procession was proceeding at a snail’s pace. 

      Was it the blistering sun or the snail’s pace?  The stranger collapsed for the first time.  Father Guiseppe was trying to control the crowd without much success.

     Father Guiseppe: “Please, brothers and sisters, make some room so we can continue.”

      The stranger got up with his cross and kept going.

      Giovanni:  “Hey, somebody give him some water!  And you,” pointing to the man with the whip, “I told you to be easy with the lashes.  You are really hurting him.”

      Father Guiseppe:  “Giovanni, please don’t slow down the procession.  He will be alright.”

      The stranger was visibly tired.  It was not the cross but the sharp, jagged edges of the whip that were eating into his flesh.  A short distance later, he fell again.  Somebody in the crowd, a woman, screamed, “Please, please, let me see him!  I need to see him!  Please let me get close to him!”

      Somehow, the woman and her son managed to get through the crowd to get close to the stranger.

      “Please, I beg you!  Touch my son. He is blind. Deep inside my heart, I know you have the power to make him see!” she said.

      He:  “Your son will see the light as he has always imagined it,” he whispered in her ear.  “Have faith, woman!”

      Father Guiseppe: “Let us continue, please!”

      The stranger picked up his cross and kept going.  Just a little further, and it would be over.

The blistering sun and the lashes were too much for him, and he fell for the third time.

     Giovanni: “Hey, hey!  I want to help!  Let me help him!”

     Father Guiseppe: “Let him help.”

      Giovanni: “Let me help you,” he said to the stranger, and whispered in his ear, “I know who you are.”

      He:  “Do you?”

      Giovanni: “Yes!  Tu sei un santo e non e jiusto cio che ti stammo faciendo, Io devo morire perche ho vissuto nel male ma non tu.  Please take me with you when you leave.”

      Giovanni carried the cross the rest of the way.  They arrived at the top of the hill.  It was time to switch the crosses.  The number of people crowding around was too much, and hardly anyone could move.

      Father Guiseppe turned to his assistant and said, “Luigi, be sure that the cross is well secured so he will not be hurt.  It seems to me that the metal cross is very heavy.  Giovanni did not do a good job.”

      They put the stranger on his metal cross.  It was time for the finale.  He was lifted on the cross, and a couple of ropes were attached to the extremes to secure it even more, but the ground started to crumble under the weight of the stranger and the metal cross. 

      Father Guiseppe noticed the stranger was falling down and screamed, “Pull, pull!  He’s going to fall!  Tell that man with the spear to move!  He is going to hurt him!  Who is that fool that doesn’t move?”

      Luigi:  “It is Dino, the deaf man.  He can’t hear.”

      And the unthinkable happened!  When they pulled the cross up, the stranger was already pierced by the spear, and was bleeding heavily.  Somebody in the crowd screamed, “Stop this madness, you fools!  Don’t you see that He has come back?”

      Somebody answered, “Shut up, fool!  You are getting sentimental!”

      Luigi: “We have to stop!  We have to stop, Father!”

      Father Guiseppe:  “Just one more minute!  He wants to say something.  Put the microphone closer!” he screamed.

      The stranger, with his broken voice, began to say, “Oh Father, forgive them, after . . . after all this time they . . . they are still in the dark.  You . . . you can blame it on me.  In silent mutiny, you stand beside me.  I can feel it, but I cannot hear you anymore.  With you on my side, I am not afraid to die.  Time . . . time is no longer on my side.”

      The echo of silence began to spread over us.  This silent moment is much more cruel than the loss of our souls.  The universe already sees us as creatures of destruction, and our actions are legendary.  We should have known that it isn’t hard to imagine the future of humankind. It is very clear that human ignorance and envy destroy everything that they don’t understand.

     What did we do with the great knowledge that you granted us?  We saw it as a source of immense power.  Charlatans and false prophets have made a mockery of what you said, and we have made a circus of the things you went through.

      Soon, You will return to wherever You came from without our hearts and souls.  What will You think about us, the ones who have been unable to learn from the past?  Me, I am guilty, too, and I lied to You.  I am here, petrified without knowing what to do, and still afraid to die.  Perhaps someone will help find a meaning to my miserable existence. 

      Oh!  The time has come to face whatever we have done.  Without You, there is nothing more to say.  What will we do without light?  We will be lost in an abyss of darkness and madness forever, forever, forever.

 Story by S. Florence and J.A. Castillo.  Illustration by J.A. Castillo