[Note: This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, GOD’S BETRAYAL: QUANTUM RESURRECTION, told from the point of view of Father Gabriel Garza, a renegade Roman Catholic priest who always puts the right-thing-to-do ahead of the rules. That’s why bad players have placed him on The Watch List.]
I knew they’d be coming sooner or later, especially with all the Trump anti-immigrant rhetoric. After all, St. Anthony’s rectory, down the street from Catholic University, was only a seventeen minute drive, with no traffic, from the White House.
I answered after the bang-knock on the heavy wood rectory door. I looked through the peephole. It was 4 p.m. and I thought to myself, was that preferred Nazi arrest time, when they took people out of their homes?
Standing on my rectory front porch were three uniforms; one said ICE, the other two were local police-blues. I knew the neighborhood Blues personally, jutted my chin out and up in acknowledgement, they looked down and studied the spit shine on their police-issue footwear.
I blazed my anger at the ICE leader, “Got a warrant?”
“Father Garza, with respect, let’s do this the easy way. I’m just doing my job. You understand.”
He looked Hispanic to me. The small metal name plate on his uniform pocket said Juan Carlos. A small gold crucifix peeked out from under his top shirt button, right behind the official, cheap, black tie. Didn’t know if that cross was an accidental reveal or pre-planned attempt to win me over.
“Crappy job,” I said. “No me holas.”
“Father, Father. Come on, ’mano. I’LL BE BACK! You know, with a warrant,” he said.
“I’m not your damned ’mano and you better bring Arnold with you, instead of just the locals.”
The locals looked up at that, thin smiles to match my own.
“That a threat?” the ICE man asked.
I eye-lasered him, all the way to the back of his skull.
He returned in ninety minutes. Stood on the porch.
I opened the door, reached for my cell phone, pulled it out, and started punching numbers with my thumbs.
“Don’t bother,” ICE declared. “It’s cleared up and down the line. We’re coming in. Now. Got it?”
I took two steps back, raised my right arm and threw three rapid signs of the cross in the air between us, angrily yelling in Latin the names of all the saints I could think of and when I ran out of names, I yelled the opening of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, “Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres . . .”
When I ran out that narcississt’s historical, genocidal polemics, I supplemented with the opening of Virgil’s Aneid, “Arma verumque cano . . .” for the first two pages I had been required to memorize in seminary about men and weapons in the Trojan War. I was running out of material, and started to use the old Latin Mass intro, “Introibo ad altare Dei . . .”
“Wha . . . what’re you doing?” said ICE Officer Juan Carlos.
“First, I am excommunicating you from receiving the sacraments or even attending any Christian church of any denomination while you engage in your unholy work. I have special dispensation from the Archbishop to excommunicate in grave emergencies.”
“What? You’re kidding me, right? You guys don’t do that anymore.” A hint of doubt creased his now furrowed brow.
“And,” I added, “I am damning you and your entire family to eternal hellfire by calling on all our known angels and saints in heaven who bear witness to your persecution of these chosen people of our faith.”
“Yeah, right,” he said, with a wannabe sneer that didn’t quite make it, along with a nanosecond flicker in his left eye. He paused, turned to the accompanying officers, and then stared back at me.
His mouth opened, closed.
A hoarseness grew in his voice as he threw it back across his right shoulder, “Okay, guys. Enough of this foolishness. It’s past end of shift. We don’t need this crap. Let’s go.”
As he turned around on the porch, I saw him scratch out the rectory address on his official ICE clipboard.
I was more on edge than normal, given who had been residing in my basement for the last two weeks until I could get them placed somewhere, somehow.
A skinny thirteen year old boy and his eleven year old sister, journeyed all the way from Chiapas in southern Mexico, right next door to Guatamala. They had ridden trains, starved and frozen in the cold nights on top of boxcars, and finally crossed the Rio Grande at a desolate place where the water appeared shallow in the starlight. But they had almost drowned when they lost their footing in the swirls of the deep, dirty river.
I couldn’t image how they made the trip alone with only a few pesos. Then, it came out. His pretty sister had to do things they refused to talk about. The Mexican gangs, their own people, were a bigger threat to their personal safety than the Mexican federales or the American border patrols.
Those gangs, I really would like to damn them.
Three days later, Juan Carlos returned to St. Anthony’s rectory under the cover of darkness and apologized.
We worked out a system. He’d always come to the rectory, without a warrant, I’d refuse to admit him, he’d come back the next day with the paperwork, which gave me enough time to move the terrified immigrants with no place to go, over to some parishioners who were part of the active underground.
I handed Juan Carlos a three by five index card to take with him. I had written out Ezekiel 13:10:
I will tear down the wall that you have whitewashed and level it to the ground, laying bare its foundations. When it falls, you shall be crushed beneath it: thus you shall know that I am the LORD. When I have spent my fury on the wall and its whitewashers, I tell you there shall be no wall, nor shall there be whitewashers.
Then I said, “Tell your ICE friends Hispanics are the Lord’s new Chosen People. And, the Old Testament God doesn’t screw around.”
Ezekiel was a Hebrew priest and prophet. He held that each man is responsible for his own acts. I was a priest. We were both priests, useful ones.
Many of the Jewish prophets were killed by their own people.
My explanation for the two basement apartments always stayed the same. Whenever someone on Juan Carlos’s search team got suspicious about the rumpled, dirty sheets, I’d say, “Careful there, the D.C. homeless carry some exotic, viral, fellow-travellers. Don’t touch anything without your latex.”
They always left the basement within ninety seconds of my helpful medical advice. And then seemed in a hurry to raid some other hapless facility saying things like, “We’ll finish our paperwork out on the street.” Or, “Let’s get back to the vehicles in case other calls have come in.”
What? You think they’re going to arrest a priest? Let them try it and see what happens.
Daniel Berrigan was my hero.