Monsignori Abbatelli, sixty-seven, enjoys his honorific title bestowed by the Holy Father for his lifelong service he gives pilgrims to Rome and the poor. His sense of importance is shown by an immaculate tailored black suit, black braces, black shirt, clerical collar and patent leather black shoes. He carries a magnificent dark brown leather briefcase embossed with his title and name and wears a superb black Borsalino hat. But in the end, he believes his demeanour does the trick, as he struts like his idol, Marcello Mastroianni.
The Fiat, driven by one of his two assistants, young seminarians from the Ivory Coast, arrives just off the Piazza del Plebiscito, near the Duomo di Vetralla. The car has hardly stopped before the Monsignori is out of the car having spotted two pellegrini. He accosts them, asks if they are hungry, and, before they know it, the two seminarians are marching them down the side of the Duomo to enjoy the weekly lunch he gives for the poor and pilgrims.
In the L’ostello di Duomo they are led up the stairs to a large noisy room flooded with sunlight; there are many people at tables. At one table there is a vacant chair; Abbatelli shakes the hands of the poor and blesses each individually. The pilgrims are seated at a further table. Abbatelli signals. All stand. He introduces the pilgrims. All are blessed. Food is served.
The meal finished, the Monsignori suggests that the pilgrims stay in the Ostello overnight. They refuse, saying they have made arrangements at the Monestara Regina Pacis for the night and cannot break their word. Abbatelli is incredulous, and in English shouts, You give your word to Benedictine nuns? Follia!
The pilgrims find the road to the Benedictine monastery long and steep. A nun lets them in and shows them to their room. In the corridor she puts a finger to her lips and, at an open door, shows them a very old lady who is staying to give her family respite from her care.
After a rest and a shower the pilgrims go to the guests’ dining room where the old lady they saw earlier is seated at the table. A novice from Senegal, who speaks perfect English, serves them and acts as translator as the old lady speaks no English. Pleasantries are exchanged and the old lady proudly produces photographs of her great grandchildren from her handbag. In silence they dine on excellent minestrone soup, spinach and garlic, courgettes, bread and good red wine.
As coffee is served the old lady asks them to tell her of their day. They describe their encounter with Abbatelli. She can hardly contain herself, the novice translates, she says, His ego makes him a pimp of souls. I have known him since a boy. He has no real charity. He preens, I think that’s what she means, preens in his mirror, the devil kissing his fat pink cheek. All’inferno con lui! The nun crosses herself. The old lady laughs.
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© Phil Cosker 2020
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.