Father Xavier Murphy pulled his habit tight around his tall emaciated frame. It provided scant protection from the biting wind. Welcoming lights from the small Welsh town two miles away shimmered in the dusty atmosphere. The priest looked in vain for his promised transport, shrugged and started walking, thinking of the stiff whisky and warm bed at journey’s end. Looking skywards into thick scudding clouds lit by a full Moon, he felt closer to God and cheered in his lonely mission.
‘To begin at the beginning: When God created the heavens and Earth, the Earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.’
Father Xavier paused long enough to take in the smell of old polished wood in the ancient Baptist chapel, the expectant faces of button-nosed kids, weary men and women, and a few tribal elders.
‘And that’s as far as we need to go with God and the book of Genesis.’
The congregation gasped, a few angry words rose above the mumble of astonished whispers. The priest held his Bible aloft and there was silence.
‘Countless years ago the forces that make our World, the stars, and the space between were bound together as one. We cannot know for sure how this happened but what followed was studied for centuries before the coming of storms and the start of our time.’
‘Our World was not made in six days. It has taken billions of years, and over this time life has slowly evolved until we have come to sentience and to know God. Don’t believe those who preach otherwise; that we were made separately from the animals as though we are special. We are part of God’s creation but not fashioned by Him like a potter at his wheel.’
‘This is heresy,’ shouted an elder. ‘I will hear no more of this. You bring the word of the Devil to our holy place.’
Father Xavier let the old man finish and waited patiently for the congregation to fall silent.
‘I stand before you as a man of God, not a heretic, and I bring you a simple truth. This truth will unlock your spirit and free your heart; it will make you brave and give you hope.
‘What is this truth?’ sneered the elder. ‘Look around you at our ruined World. Will your ‘simple truth’ bring back our trees, farms, and animals? I think not. We believe that God made us and our World as the Bible says, and it is within His power to change things back to how they were before the Warming. By listening to you we will incur His displeasure’
The elder was cheered and clapped but Father Xavier noticed that a good twenty or thirty remained silent. A female elder stood up:
‘Let it not be said that our community rejects new ideas without listening first. Let the priest have his say.’
Father Xavier acknowledged the elder’s intervention and continued:
‘The simple truth I bring you is that together we can return the World to what it was like before the Warming. The process is called carbon capture technology and it can remove the gas from the atmosphere that causes our planet to heat up. This is happening naturally but will take hundreds maybe thousands of years. Carbon capture technology can complete the process in ten.’
‘And what is the price of this technology?’ asked the female elder.
‘I ask you to pay the same price as the Holy Roman Catholic Church has done. That is to embrace science and technology and not God as the solution to our problem. I have been sent from the Vatican to gain converts to this position and hence to our salvation. It is God’s will.’
Father Xavier gratefully accepted the cigarette and whisky offered by his host who asked:
‘Were the natives friendly?’
‘Not bad. That female elder, what’s her name, Catrin, will be useful. She helped me win over about a third of the congregation. We need to do something about that pain-in-the-arse elder, Medwyn. Is he bribable? Are there skeletons in his cupboard?’
‘Oh, I’m sure we can nullify him. Like a lot of fanatics he has secrets. Leave him to me.’
They talked into the night; old friends reliving their early days in the seminary, discussing the survival of the Catholic Church and the rise of Creationism after the Warming. Later, Father Xavier drunkenly proposed a toast through the fug of cigarette smoke:
‘To God, our Church, and carbon capture technology.’
‘You’re welcome to that,’ smiled his host. ‘I’ll settle for the power and wealth coming my way.’
The next morning Father Xavier said goodbye to his host and friend not knowing when they would meet again. As he walked slowly, his head aching, to the edge of town, Catrin caught up with him.
‘Thank you so much Father for your words of hope. We are very grateful. When do we start?’
‘Others will follow soon. Thank you my child for your support. I bless you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.’
Father Xavier’s spirits rose with the Sun as he walked along the trail to the next town. A hooded figure was walking in the opposite direction.
‘Good day to you sir. May God travel with you.’
The figure drew up close to the priest. It was the elder Medwyn.
‘I wish you a good death Father and I pray God will treat you mercifully.’
Medwyn drew his knife swiftly and lunged for the priest. Father Xavier deflected the blow and kicked Medwyn in the ribs. Medwyn fell on his knife and lay on the ground fatally wounded.
‘Father, forgive me. Don’t let me meet my Maker in a state of mortal sin.’
Father Xavier comforted Medwyn as best he could and administered the Last Rites. As he buried Medwyn under a pile of dry earth he felt he was burying the past and looking forward to a brighter future. Medwyn’s sightless eyes gazed into a sky that was starless and bible black.