This is a tale told in the smoke from votive candles, in fallen rose petals and crayoned messages…
Dreadful news of wars and the rumours of wars had reached the lonely old Chapel. The people came through the dunes and sat quietly. Even the Lord-by-the-Sea was subdued. Then one voice spoke. ‘I blame religion,’ he said. ‘All of them, priests and such-like. Never done anyone any good.’
The Pilgrim Woman came down from the Garret with bare feet and a bowed head.
‘Let me tell you what I saw,’ she said:
A priest stumbled along the middle of a shattered road. His robe turned over the broken glass, made it tinkle and shine. Each crunch by his soles made onlookers stare. Faces; the bitter and the hostile, the lost and despairing, turned to follow his progress.
At the first body, he wrapped his cloak over his fist and swept away the loose debris. Then he knelt, closed the woman’s eyes and prayed. Jeers ricocheted around him. He covered the woman and left her with her dignity.
The rubble guided him to a boy with nothing left beyond the hem of his boardshorts. An embroidered cap slipped away from his dust-soaked hair. The priest hesitated then laid his hand amongst the boy’s curls.
‘Shalom’ he said, and pinned the boy’s yamulke back in place. He rose and his knees creaked. His fingers told his beads as he passed through the vale of the dead. He gave his cloak to an old woman shivering and rocking. He tore strips from his hems and sleeves to staunch wounds. The white cloth of his robes grew grey and clotted.
Then he found a girl on the threshold of death.
‘Pray for me, Father,’ she said in the language of his adopted home. Her unfocused eyes could not see the nature of his creed. The imam cradled the broken child against his chest. Cold made her shiver. The little gold crosses in her ears shook.
‘Please, Father,’ she said. It was not his faith – but what could he do?
‘Our Father,’ he began. Among the sobs and the ragged breathing, voice after voice added to the prayer. Knees hit tarmac. Calm spread out from the centre of his pierced heart to the souls around him. He could not stop the pain, but he could share the burden of it.