Short story from Santiago Burdon

As Sure As The Pope Was Catholic

I was watching some news channel in the Social Stigma Bar as usual waiting for my dealer to show. There was a story about the funeral of Pope John Paul l. It was being broadcast from Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Instantly it captured my interest and I asked the bartender to turn up the volume. He gave me a questioning glare but followed through with my request.

Whenever I'm reminded of that place , I become one pissed off recovering Catholic. Let me explain the reason for my animosity.
It was during my college years, I majored in debauchery with a minor in celebratory participation well on my way to graduating with a Bachelor's Degree in irresponsibility. I was checking through the class schedule for the upcoming semester. Looking to enroll in classes not requiring any kind of enthusiastic commitment. I was informed there was a World Religion class with exactly that type of prerequisite. The Professor never took attendence or assigned homework. The only test given during the entire semester was a take home exam. It was a course requiring very little effort and was based on a Pass/Fail grading scale. When classes resumed for the semester unfortunately the professor who taught the course had died over the summer and was replaced by some Christian fundamentalist. It was rumored she was part of some religious cult and was rescued by some group her parents hired. She definitely took the subject matter seriously without adopting any of the past professor's methods.

As soon as possible I dropped the class and enrolled in a Classical Art and Music Appreciation class taught by a professor who had hung out with Ken Kesey and the Pranksters. 

It was one of the best classes I have ever experienced. I never missed a single class and got stoned before attending. I was sure the Professor did the same. He blasted the music through giant JBL speakers with the decibel level at maximum. It was so intense it felt as though you were in a concert hall. On a large white movie screen behind him he showed videos of Classic Art pieces while the music blared. These were the first music videos produced long before MTV. 
It was recommended to have a valid passport when signing up for the course. We were later informed the top fifteen students would be eligible to participate in a class field trip. This year the destination was Rome, Italy and Vatican City which included a tour of Saint Peter's Basilica as well as the Sistine Chapel. The cost had yet to be determined but there were scholarships available through a benevolent benefactor.

By some miraculous act of kindness by the Gods I qualified for the trip. I finished at fourteenth in class and was also awarded a scholarship from the University. My folks kicked in a few hundred dollars with some relatives also donating to the cause. Twelve days in Italy was next on my agenda. 

My grandfather passed a month before the trip leaving me his gold and diamond pinky ring. I cherished the ring and wore it proudly. It was a bit too large for my ring finger and at times slipped off of my hand. 

There I was in Italy contemplating what type of trouble was on the menu. On our first day we took a tour of the Saint Peter's Basilica while mass was in session. The scantily dressed, attractiveTour Guard asked that we be extremely quiet and speak in a whisper. She began passing out brochures with the history and facts pertaining to the Basilica. As I reached for one of the pamphlets my ring flew off of my finger. It was launched into the area where parishioners were receiving mass. 

"Goddamn it my ring!" I yelled.
Drawing the attention of the entire Cathedral. 

It pinged on the marble floor with a distinct echo. I could hear it rolling away under the pews. I ran after the ring but I was quickly captured by two Swiss Guards. They pulled me out from underneath the pews by my legs. 

When I resisted it caused them to become angry. Next they physically carried me out of the Cathedral ejecting me through a side exit which was the office of the Administrator. They guided me inside where I was pushed down with extreme force by my shoulders into a chair.

A short, balding wrinkled faced guy sat down behind the desk in front of me. He asked if I spoke Italian in Italian so I acted as though I had no idea what he was talking about. (Actually I knew what he was saying, I was just playing dumb.)

I asked him if he understood English in English and he shook his head no. Although he obviously understood my question. He held up a finger signaling for me to wait a minute. Soon a priest sat down taking his place and asked me where I was from in perfect English. He had a strong New York accent. Finally I was granted a chance to explain my dilemma. After I conveyed my tragic story he pretended to appear concerned. But he wasn't a very good actor. I could tell he really didn't care about my unfortunate circumstance in the least..
He informed me they would search for the ring, however if they didn't have success in recovering it, I should file a claim with the Vatican.

I filled out the paperwork which was printed in Italian with Father Brooklyn translating the directions. My claim amounted to $3,898.00. It included initial cost, sentimental value and pain and suffering. I gave them my home address and other contact information. I requested that my claim be paid with a cashier's check issued from an international bank. No checks, not even from the Pope himself.
He finished explaining my claim had to be approved by their Insurance Adjuster. I would be hearing from them in a month or so. Yay, 'Fat Chance' I thought as we shook hands and said ciao. 
That took place over six years ago without ever hearing anything from the Catholic Diocese in Vatican City. That's right, they never once attempted to contact me. My efforts at communication with them for any type update proved to be worthless.

I was becoming more infuriated with every second watching this news broadcast. I was ready to ask the bartender to change the channel. Just then the camera panned to a close up of the Pope's hands holding a Rosary. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Right there in living color broadcast to the entire world, there it was! On the Pope's left pinky finger was my grandfather's ring. The Pope was wearing my ring the same one I had lost years ago in the Basilica. 

There was no mistaking what I was witnessing. As sure 
as the Pope was Catholic, it was my ring!