Before dawn peeked into the windows, Cardinal Fratelli awoke with a sore throat. He shivered a bit from night air then closed the window and laid back down, trying to fall asleep again. No success.
Irritated, he got up and softly moved downstairs. From the kitchen, he smelled the delicate odor of brewing tea and baking bread. Dina was awake and setting the table. Remembering a more important task, Fratelli went into the chapel. Six lit candles greeted him, flickering somberly.
Crossing himself, he said hoarsely:
“Thank you, O Lord, for your providence and care. Please help me to feel fit enough for your service as I am not feeling too well. Give Gianni the grace to receive your communion tomorrow night, watch over Michele. I apologize, my God for rambling on like this, asking all these things. What matters most is you are here and that you sent your Son to save us… however, granting me a nice day would also be very pleasant.”
He smiled against the dim lights.
“In the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, uphold me.”
Thankfully, when Fratelli joined Rodrigo and Adreo for breakfast, the hot tea soothed his throat. After another cup, he now spoke clearly and without any pain. He didn’t even mind that for this day of fasting, all they each ate was two slices of bread and three figs. Excitedly, the cardinal suggested that all the leftover bread in their house be distributed to the poor.
“But what else will we eat?” Adreo inquired.
“We have figs and olives and hard breadsticks,” Fratelli replied, “Let’s remember those who often fast more from necessity than from choice.”
This zealous excitement dwindled soon, as he approached the cathedral and found a man sitting forlorn on the steps. Moving aside his greyish hair, the man looked up.
“Your Eminence!” he cried.
He scrambled afoot, bowed and kissed the cardinal’s ring. Then he continued, “I really need to talk with a man of God.”
Fratelli’s forehead wrinkled as he tried to remember the man’s name. Indeed, he regularly attended Mass at the cathedral, always sitting towards the front and responding devoutly. Something like “Fred” or “Fido”…It bothered him he couldn’t remember.
“You don’t know me, do you Your Eminence?” he asked, catching on.
Embarrassed, Fratelli stammered, “I do, I do…Just wait for a minute…”
“Alfred! I’m Alfred!” the man said, concealing some annoyance.
Fratelli frowned and inwardly scolded himself. Returning attention to the man, he asked, “What do you wish to speak about, my son- Alfred?”
Alfred gestured that they step inside where no one could hear. They walked towards the altar then stopped before an ornate, stained-glass window. Faint sunlight cast a reddish glow upon Alfred’s face as he began:
“Your Eminence, I am so overcome by temptation and anger- I am ready to leave my wife.”
The gravity of his words struck Fratelli and feeling weak, he leaned on a near wall.
“Why?” was his only response.
“I am not a bad man, Your Eminence, I just grow tired of working so hard every day and coming home to an unappreciative woman. She yells at me and won’t cook for me…and there is someone else I would rather be with,” Alfred said.
Fratelli calmly listened while Alfred went on and on about how dissatisfying his married life had become. Finally, he raised one finger to quiet him then asserted, “No, no surely there is some other way…”
Fratelli spent the next hour talking with Alfred, convincing him to resist his emotions, stay home and for both he and his spouse to seek regular counsel from another priest. Fratelli’s mind spun by the time Alfred left. Now, he had a headache.
Leaving the cathedral’s side door, walking across the green, shady courtyard, Fratelli spotted Ernesto speaking with Francine beneath a tree. Francine furiously fanned herself with a silk, oriental fan and gazed at Ernesto. Back turned to Fratelli, he wore a deep blue, constable’s uniform and a black cape. Creeping closer, Fratelli overheard him say:
“Michele’s baby is going to be born this week. She is so weary and having great pain. I’m so glad for your help.”
Francine stared past Ernesto, easily seeing Fratelli, and exclaimed, “Angelo, you are dressed in bright scarlet-red, how can I not see you behind that bush?”
Ernesto turned around.
“Well, hello,” the cardinal said to his brother, nervously waving.
“Eminence,” Ernesto lazily replied.
His amber eyes glimmered tiredly, apparently deprived of sleep.
“I have been so worried about Michele,” he explained, “Then your aunt Francine here told me she would be glad to care for her as a midwife.”
“I am skilled at comforting and tending to new mothers,” Francine interrupted, “Just ask Angelo how well I cared for my eldest daughter after her first child.”
Fratelli nodded. He rubbed his right temple. The painful headache would not go away. Taking Ernesto’s hand, he assured, “My brother, if you need anything, don’t hesitate to summon me.”
“Even if it is in the middle of night?”
Afternoon arrived. Uneasily, still rubbing his head and now drinking cool water, Fratelli examined the blood-red vestments which were to be used for Good Friday’s service. He placed his glass of water down, walked over to where the vestments hung and carefully put them on.
Then the people of Lucca gathered inside the cathedral to commemorate Jesus’s passion and ultimate death on the cross. Gianni was given the task of bearing a crucifix before the procession. The large, tall cross almost faltered in his small hands but determined, he kept grip on it.
Somber chant rose overhead:
“We adore you O Christ, and we bless you for by your cross and resurrection, you have redeemed the world.”
Fratelli adamantly lead prayers and songs but the dull throbbing in his head felt worse. He pretended not to feel it. After his sermon, the words “Ouch, this hurts” suddenly slipped from his mouth! Noticing everyone heard him, he frantically pointed back to the crucifix as if implying that is exactly what Jesus felt.