May 9, 2022
Father John raised his fork high and brought it down on the Idli, stabbing it with all his might. He hoicked up a lump, dipped it into the coriander chutney and mouthed it. The Assistant Parish Priest had gone out on errand, leaving him alone at the breakfast table. The kind and friendly sixty eight years old priest was tall, lean and bearded.
“Alex,” he called out. “Can you come here for a minute?”
Like his fast cooking, Alex dashed out of the kitchen and gazed at Fr John. Has something gone wrong with this morning’s cooking? He worried as he glared at the unhappy face of the priest. Having been a church cook for the past five years, everyone had heaped praises on his culinary skills. Pork chili, Chicken Roce Curry and Sannas were his specialties.
“Do you find the Sannas hard, Father?” he asked, his voice quivered.
The Priest raised his head and asked calmly, “Where is our cat? I haven’t seen her for the past couple of days.”
“Yes, Father,” Alex said, recovering quickly. “I wanted to inform you about. But then you got so busy and in the process I forgot completely.”
“Perhaps she is unwell and has taken refuge in some secluded corner of our church complex.”
“That’s not the case, Father. She has disappeared completely,” Alex said with certainty. “My extensive search in every nook and corner of the church complex, including empty spaces behind every statue, yielded no result. It has vanished without a trace.”
“Where could she have gone?” Fr John wondered, worryingly. “We had treated her with utmost love and care. It was a happy cat.”
“Someone has stolen it.” Alex deduced, serving more chutney. “These days we hear ghastly stories of cats and dogs getting stolen and sold as sweetmeat dishes.”
It was not that the priest couldn’t stand horror stories - he himself incorporated scary anecdotes in sermons, but the one being told by his cook at the breakfast table troubled him. He put the horrific images out of his mind by replacing with an image of crucifix.
“If that were the case, our tomcat would also have been stolen,” the priest reasoned. “Probably she has wandered away like the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:12-14),” he cited the gospel verse.
Alex nodded. “That makes sense, Father.”
The priest served himself another idli. “It has been barely two days, but I am missing her terribly. She would curl along with me while writing sermons with words pouring out of my pen as if she had been dictating with her meows which also served as soothing music. In the night, she would hop onto my bed and snuggle with me. And I had been getting wonderful dreams. Now I’m missing all that.”
It was a pretty, pampered and playful cat. Her eyes were blue and bright and hair long. Losing her would make any parent sad, let alone Fr John.
“That won’t last long, Father,” Alex assured. “Somehow I will try and bring her back. Please pray for her.”
“I will,” the priest assured. “My small prayer right now is for another cup of coffee.”
Alex chuckled, marveling at Fr John’s sense of humor even at these trying times. He turned on his heels and sauntered into the kitchen singing to himself, ‘Ye Ye Katrina, Na Na Yevnchina.’”
Two months had elapsed. No vital clue was found on the missing cat. The priest had been praying fervently. So had been Alex in front of the statue of Saint Anthony of Padua, the patron of the poor and the helper of all who seek lost articles. The parishioners of the church, which was dedicated to the same saint, had been experiencing countless miracles by seeking his intercession. The sudden disappearance of the cat had saddened the priest. His heart bled for confused and lonely tomcat, Don. There was a marked change in the quality of his sermons. Parishioners who were quick to notice had inquired about his health. The priest known for his simplicity had bluntly replied that all was well with him.
It was Saturday evening. Fr John was hearing confessions.
“I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” the priest said, blessing the penitent sinner. Outside, one big shadowy figure walked away and a small shadowy figure dropped into its knees.
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen,” the little girl prayed with her singsong voice. “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It is three months since my last confession.”
The priest waited in silence.
The girl recounted her sins. “I have hurt my mom. Despite being told to eat bitter gourd, I refused point-blank. I hid a story book in the text book and read it. I have always looked at my classmate Austin and smiled at him.” Oh, my God. He is so handsome.
“Small sin, small sin, small sin...” The priest mentally recited a litany after every sin being uttered as if he were ticking them away.
“I have stolen a cat.”
It nearly knocked him off his chair. The church around him reeled. “Big sin,” he said in subdued voice. The little girl shrank back in fear with her heart beating fast. Her first impulse was to run away. The little jabs of guilt kept stabbing at her heart.
“Where did you steal it from?” Fr John inquired.
“From the church.”
“Our church. This church.”
The priest appreciated her courage. Normally, people go to distant churches for confessions even at the cost of burning petrol which had been getting dearer by the day. Some even inquire beforehand to learn if the priest was known. Times have changed. Sins have got bigger. Some new sins are yet to get their names. Confessors are careful and fearful. So, he felt proud of this little girl.
He asked politely, “Why did you steal her?”
“She is so cute and loving, Father,” the girl said excitement flooding in on her. “I wanted to own her ever since I had set my eyes on her. After the daily mass, I would see her, pet her and feed her a cat biscuit. I wanted her badly. So I took her. But now I’m sad because I stole her.”
“Well, we also have a tomcat named Don. Why didn’t you take him home too? He is now sad because he has lost his companion. They had been inseparable.”
“Because you had said in your sermon that one shouldn’t desire too many Earthly things.”
The priest tried hard to control his laughter. “What’s your name?”
“Andrea, did you steal her on your own?”
“No, Father. My elder brother Gordon had helped me.”
“Oh, I see. Do you attend Catechism classes?”
“So you know stealing is sinful. Jesus watches everyone and everything. He is everywhere.”
“He wasn’t there at the time. Neither was there a CCTV camera.”
The priest stifled a grin. “Even the angels watch and report to St Peter. He then picks up a book with your name on it and writes sins. He has pencils of assorted colors – blue, green, yellow, red - depending on the size of the sin, he writes in your book using the pertinent color. In your case, it was the ultimate hue of red, because the stolen cat belonged to the church. It wouldn’t make St Peter anymore happy. It is his church after all.”
“Will I go to hell?” Andrea asked with fear in her voice.
“You’re safe,” the Priest consoled her. “Now that you have repented and confessed, St Peter will wipe out that particular sin with his big Eraser.”
Andrea smirked. Fr John was not updated with times, she thought. Book, Pencils and Eraser were used in the ancient times. St Peter uses a computer in this digital age.
The priest stroked his beard. “But he will do so merely on one condition.”
“What is it, Father?”
“Provided you have looked after the cat well with timely feeding and loved her with all your heart.”
“That’s what, Father,” Andrea said enthusiastically. “I have been doing just that from day one. I fed her my whole portion of bitter gourd. She sits on my lap and I like her all furry in bed at night. She sings meows while doing homework. I love her so much. She makes me happy.”
“Does she make any mischief?”
“Oh, yeah,” Andrea recollected and chirruped. “She stole a fried sardine and a fried lady fish from my plate on two occasions. I’m okay with it though.”
That wasn’t news to Fr John. She had stolen many fried mackerels from his plate. He was also okay with it because he wasn’t a big fan of Alex’s exotic spices.
“Ok, listen now,” Fr John said. “From this day forward she belongs to you.”
“Wh-a-t?” Andrea asked, puzzled.
“I said she is yours now. You stole her and now earned her with repentance and confession. You both are bound together now. Believe that Jesus gave you a beautiful present that breaths, walks, sings meows and gives you happy company. Look after her well. You are not the owner, but the parent. You know what it means, don’t you?”
“Yes, Father,” Andrea said with heartfelt gratitude. “Thank you, Father.”
“Do you know her name?”
“No. I have been calling her Aishwarya.”
“Katrina, that’s her name,” the Priest said. “When I drop by for your house blessing, I will play with her. I will also bring along Don.”
“No, please don’t bring him, Father,” Andrea pleaded. “Mom and Dad will come to know that I stole Katrina.”
Fr John grinned. “What did you tell them?”
“It was given by one of my classmates as they were migrating to Canada.”
“Another sin,” the priest said somberly. “One sin leads to another. Any more sins, child?”
“Well, I want you to say a prayer every night before you go to bed. I’m going to say it. Repeat after me. ‘Good St Francis of Assisi, you loved all of God’s creatures. To you they were your brothers and sisters. Help us to follow your example of treating every living thing with kindness. St Francis, Patron Saint of animals, watch over my pet Katrina and keep my companion safe and healthy. Amen’.”
Now go home with God’s blessing and ask your brother Gordon to make his confession.
The moment Andrea reached home she gave a cry of relief and joy. “I’m saved, Katrina. I’m saved.” she picked up Katrina and cradled her close pressing kisses all over her furry body. “You are my gift from God, my loving Katrina.” Andrea’s eyes welled with tears.
Katrina meowed loudly with upraised tail - her face full of joy, life and energy. She blinked slowly expressing her love. She was thrilled and excited at being called by her real name by her new little parent for the first time. Up until then, she had been grappling with identity crisis, feeling outcast and lost. There was no doubt that it would help reinforce the bond between two of them. She felt contented as she now could settle well in her new household, hoping to thieve more fried fish since the variety in Andrea’s house was far wider than that of the church kitchen.