(The Bishop of San Francisco by Eugene C. Bianchi )
Roger Moriarty was a true polymath. As a master of various skills, he had reconstructed the Citroen from the chassis up to the coppery perfection of its paint job. Even in the gloom of St. Brigid’s garage, he could gaze with wonder at the dull glow of his ancient sports car. He knew every surface, every bolt like he knew his own lanky body. He flushed with anticipatory pride at the prospect of roaring forth from his lair onto Broadway at Van Ness Avenue, the barrier road that prevented the great fire of 1906 from consuming all San Francisco. He loved the fantasy of security this residence gave, a feeling of being protected from the conflagrations that he had witnessed in his life and that seemed always about to consume him.
Walking toward his automobile, the pre-dawn fog swirled around him and the scattering of vehicles. He ruminated about the rhythm of fog and sun that defined this city, his birthplace. The elements fought their unceasing battle, with the fog firmly in control just now. He thought about this upcoming two-hour drive to Sacramento to meet with old friends and new colleagues in the still vibrant movement to foster the tenets of liberation theology and to stand for social justice. The metaphor of the fog made him sigh, as he thought about the continued ascendancy of the forces of obfuscation and repression.
His own life seemed as ephemeral as the white mist that covered the path to his car. Only through the intervention of his friend, Mark Doyle, somewhat miraculously the current Archbishop of San Francisco, had he found a place at St. Brigid’s. Otherwise, he would have faced the insecurity and humiliation of working as an itinerant at the age of fifty. The command to leave Managua stung as freshly this morning as it did when he received it seven months ago, after nearly twenty years dancing along the edges of political involvement in Mexico, Guatemala, and finally with the relatively sympathetic Sandinista government in Nicaragua. All his tangible work in agriculture, hydrology and mechanics was nothing in the face of a single memo from the Vatican.
At the shiny bumper of his vintage vehicle, he paused to yawn and stretch. The series of brightly colored stickers adorning the chrome caught his eye. “Sandino Lives!” “Keep Nicaragua Free,” “No Peace Without Justice.” These partisan sentiments gave him a sense of passion and pride.
But a rush of moist air soured this sweet feeling. His dependency on Mark Doyle, at seminary a year his junior, depressed him. He didn’t mind so much being personally beholden to Mark Doyle. He loved and respected his superior. But the sense of having to beg for a place at the table galled him. He and Mark had both excelled as athletes in school, but in the art of compromise and advancement, principle replaced ambition for Father Moriarty. Not that he misjudged the bishop who recently saved him from complete marginality in the church. The entire scenario of his life just left him confused. Had he stood for something only to see it taken from him? Or had his priestly vocation made taking a stand impossible? Maybe he was only a revolutionary reformer in his fantasies. He sighed again, as he took the old ignition key from his pocket, fingering its heft as he headed toward the driver’s low-slung door.
One of his favorite metaphors in sermons and talks was the image of a key in a lock. Sometimes he talked about the simple opening of a door. Occasionally he spoke of the process of ignition as analogous to a plan of action he wanted to jump-start. He wondered this morning, as the foggy waves kissed the shores of San Francisco, which approach he wanted to use in his breakfast presentation to Doctors Without Borders. They were meeting in Sacramento to lobby the California legislature for Central American immigrants.
Originally a French group with a particular focus in Africa, Doctors without Borders had now taken a special interest in Central America. Like him, the organization sought the right key to help indigenous poor people in their daily confrontations with landowning and governmental gatekeepers who denied them access to resources. As his sleepy brain free-associated from sensations of fog to feelings of personal oppression, from a key in his palm to metaphors for a presentation to over one hundred clergy and medical personnel, a critical task he had forgotten came to mind.
“Damn!” He had forgotten the envelope for the archbishop; he left it in his file drawer. In it, he explained a new perspective, backed by solid evidence, on the death of their mutual friend, Gus D’Amato, the gay pastor of Castro Street. Roger was certain he could come close to proving that D’Amato’s murder was part of a far-reaching conspiracy. He had promised to mail the material to Doyle when they spoke on the phone the previous evening. And again he had forgotten to bring it with him. “Ah well,” and again Roger sighed, “at least it’s safe in my office.”
Drawing deep breaths, he stood for a few moments more admiring the sporty gem that his own craftsmanship had rescued from oblivion. He cleared his mind of negative thinking and prepared himself for the road ahead. He slipped the key into the lock, then opened the door to reveal an orange blossom of light, at once brighter and blacker than the most magnificent Pacific sunset. For just an instant, this marvel puzzled him, until the blast and debris from the bomb began to pummel his body. Shards of metal and glass pierced his skin, from just below his shattered kneecap to the top of his scalp, from which scorched remains of his still bright red hair protruded. Several bits of shrapnel entered through his eyes and lodged in his brain. The concussion combined with the fiery sucking of oxygen from the explosion to collapse his right lung. As he flew backward from the blast, his head smashed against the garage door railing, breaking his neck at the fifth cervical vertebra. These constituted the primary injuries sustained by Father Roger Moriarty, and they were sufficient, after he served a time in the limbo of critical care, to accomplish his execution.
Before the blow to his neck closed completely the window of consciousness, for a brief instant, he entered a beautifully bright corridor, in which he laughed internally at the brutal irony of his life. His final thought, however, was a panic stricken demand: “My God! Mark! I’ve got to reach you.”
A watcher, stocky and bundled against both chill and any prying eye, emerged once he felt certain the Citroen’s gas tank would not ignite. The man rifled the tattered jacket of the dying Moriarty. He collected everything that resembled a document or a folder, including the smoldering briefcase, and disappeared into the foggy shadows.
Autographed copies will be available directly from Eugene for $10.00 (including shipping). Please email me at email@example.com with any request for a more personalized autograph. Orders may be sent either through PayPal (below) or by sending a check for $10.00 to: Eugene Bianchi, P.O. Box 49397, Athens, GA 30606