The island of la Playa Blanco is a tiny speck off the coast of South America. Little is known of the people as they were before the Spanish Conquistadors crushed them in their search for El Dorado. Their culture was unique among those of American natives, though most was lost to the bloody oppression of the foreign tyrants. The last shaman-king to lead the natives of la Playa Blanco spoke a curse to the Spaniards at his execution, promising to return from the grave to free his people and punish the wicked invaders. He was publicly tortured and hung with a short rope, suffering greatly before he died.
The fortresses and ports of the conquistadors soon lined the white beaches and the people were wed to the Spanish in the decades to follow. In less than a century they were all but gone, converted to a civilized, catholic culture. In the forests and the fields, however, remnants of the native practices were kept alive at the peril of life, though these were just fragments of what had been.
The people of la Playa Blanco, like most, suffered in poverty but retained a character that marks the greatest good humanity can achieve. They were deprived of their traditions, of their land, of their freedom to choose their future. Yet they shared their kindness and hope with each other and any in need. The Spaniards did far less well, as all that remained of them were ruins perused by tourists in search of history.
Father Pedro took his place before the crowd of the faithful, who waited in silence for him to begin. The little cathedral was filled beyond its capacity, with people standing along the walls when the pews were full.
He had always been popular with the people for his knowledge of their original cultural beliefs. If he had not joined the clergy, a dream since childhood, he would have made an excellent archeologist. He had traveled all over the island and had studied the sites of his ancestors with keen eyes and a sharp mind.
He had gathered the remains of their lost traditions and began to piece them together. He found two images which were believed to be deities, one of light and the other of darkness, which recurred almost wherever he searched. It was a tradition of the church to incorporate these with their own beliefs, that the light represented God while the darkness represented Satan. That the two were considered halves was offensive to the Spaniards for the implication that God and Satan were equals. It was enough for them to label the natives of the island as devil-worshippers and to outlaw their practices.
While on an expedition, in the heart of the forest, Pedro had found another interpretation. “I stopped along the trail, where the forest canopy had been broken, and saw the moon full and bright. It… she… was beautiful, a shining globe of silver-gold floating in the night sky. I sat down to rest, because the steep trail had tired me, and soon I fell asleep. In my dreams an angel came to me to tell me what I must do, and explained to me many things that had been forgotten.”
“She led me to a cave, where I found shards of pottery. I knew it was a place of our ancestors. I knew it was a place for speaking to the past and learning of the future. The pottery was used to carry souls here to this place, the well of souls. They were cast down and shattered on the stone floor, freeing the soul to join with the ancestral spirits that dwell there. They had waited so long to be remembered and they whispered to me in a language I do not know but understood all the same.”
“I listened until the light of morning began to break the darkness, when the voices began to fade. They told me to return to the people and to bring them hope. I am to work their will to show those who still believe that the time is near for the return of our king. That to all the poor, the sick, the powerless… the time draws near to rejoice.”
The people did not come for his story, but for the stories of others. He never made any claims or offered any service, but so many praised him for the wonders they attributed to him. He is said to have cured the sick, even the dying, returned sight to blind eyes, and more. They called him a Saint and came from all over the island to seek his help. He turned no one away, and tirelessly met each, giving of his own time.
However, the sermon of tonight brought them news to break their hearts. “I have listened to so many and yet I hear the same story again and again. I hear of poverty and suffering, and this pains me. Worse though, are the stories of fear and desperation. Some see no way to escape their misery except to take a gamble on crime. Young men turn to the city gangs, young women turn to prostitution. Brave officers and children in crossfire are gunned downed over the Cartel’s scraps. Those who work the drug fields share in this shame. You may never touch a gun, but your labor for pennies(?) are drawing blood and ending lives just the same.”
“I see this even now, the fear in your eyes when I mention the Cartel. I want to help you, but I can’t save you from yourself. I can not give you courage, you must find it inside your own heart. Ask yourself if the little you gain is worth all that is lost. You have lived in fear, and so lived the life others choose for you. Your children see your compromises, they watch your integrity fail. I know you love the children, so please, for them, make a better choice, before they follow your footsteps.”
“I tell you tonight that I am not afraid. I know that death will take me soon, but I will die for what I believe. When I am gone you will see that I have placed my faith well, in things of greater purpose than my own being. You will see the sign, and you will know. It will be up to you to find the courage that I know, this is not my message, but the message of our ancestors.”
story by Joe Stanley