Our Mutual Friend Fr. Deodatus
It was just before ten in the morning that Monday when I walked past the Reception and Lobby at the Notre Dame Center towards the cafeteria. I had done that so many times in the past few months that it had become routine.
I noticed the questioning look on Ricardo’s face as I headed towards our favorite table at the corner. Something was unusual too: My friend Fr. Deodatus was not at the table. He usually was at this time of the day.
Sensing my bewilderment, Ricardo asked, almost in a whisper: “Haven’t you heard?”
“Heard what?” I asked in return.
“About Fr. Deodatus”
Ricardo, like his fellow Palestinians, had perfected the art of suspense in conversation. I personally liked him because he was multi-lingual. Like the rest of the Palestinians who worked at the Notre Dame Center, you could not fail to notice his professionalism. In addition then, he was fluent in Italian, French, English, Arabic of course, and Hebrew.
Most Christian Palestinians were fluent in English and French – some more in French than English. Their population was declining fast as they emigrated to the west because of the declining political situation. It was a deliberate effort to maintain a remnant of indigenous Christians in the Holy Land, that Notre Dame Center retained a significant number of Palestinians in its workforce.
I was fascinated by Ricardo’s fluency in Italian – not that I spoke any myself, but that in a way was the source of my curiosity.
“Where did you learn Italian?” I had asked him.
“Here!” he had replied simply.
“There are many Italian pilgrims who come to Jerusalem. I figured Italian would benefit me as a waiter”.
It made perfect sense to me, with that explanation.
“What about Fr. Deodatus?”
Before responding we noticed that Monsignor Markus had slid by our side.
Monsignor Markus’ walking and movements in general can be described as sliding, or even gliding. He walked fast, in short steps – glides, really – and thinking about it one gets the picture of a fairy creature. It was remarkable that a man who served in the German military before joining the priesthood could walk so noiselessly without stomping on the floor.
That style of movement served him so well especially when he wanted to pass by Sister Angelina who always had something to complain to Monsignor.
Now he was standing by our side.
“I just called you and left a message”, he said. “Fr. Deodatus was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital” he went on without pausing. “I will go visit him in a little while but I need to talk to you before I go to see him”.
I didn’t know what to say. The whole thing sounded too formal. We were not used to formalities.
Fr. Deodatus had moved the Ecumenical African Center from St. Anne’s Church near St. Stephen’s Gate to the Notre Dame Center because of financial difficulties. The Ecumenical African Center was the brainchild of the Association of African Theologians. Since its inception in the early 70s however, neither the Association nor African churches had been able to fund its operations.
The two men were friends and having the African Center at Notre Dame enhanced their friendship. Furthermore, Fr. Deodatus served as the resident priest of Notre Dame Center – and organist too – which everybody accepted. Unofficially he was Monsignor Markus’ assistant, which some of the employees dismissed, especially Sister Angelina. Unofficially I was Fr. Deodatus’ assistant at the Ecumenical African Center with no one to object.
I joined Monsignor Markus gliding to his office, which was quite unusual for me – gliding, I mean. We normally talked a lot in the cafeteria or in the dining room during lunch or dinner, not in his office.