by Joe Giambrone
My name is Father Dmitri. I am an accountant for the Catholic Church in New York City. On that morning, I had run
into Angel Martinez outside of my rectory, and we struck up a conversation. He said that he was late for school, and I
recalled that he was also late for church, by several months or more.
Angel dressed almost generically for the boys in the neighborhood. Baggy pants, loosely layered clothing, but he had
a little silver crucifix poked through his earlobe, which I remembered from previous encounters with him.
“All you do is recite stuff out of the book,” he said.
“Well, that book, my friend, is the literal word of God,” said I.
“Uh huh. Well.” He thought for a moment, “How come the Jews got their own book? And then the Muslims got their
own book? And the Hindus got their own books, and if they’re all the literal word of God, then how come you don’t
throw them all together into some kind of anthology or something? Huh?“
“That’s an interesting line of theological questioning,” I said, actually impressed with the boy. He stood straight up
“I commend you for that. That’s great Angel,” I said, “You go off and read those books, and then come back. And I
think you’ll look at our Book with a little more respect and awe. It will do nothing but inspire you and bring you closer
to God. Seek. You seek your entire life.”
“Well I don’t really want to go to church,” he said. “I mean this place look like fourteenth century, medieval, one step
removed from a torture chamber. Hot iron and rats biting your skin so you’ll confess. I mean they still got
confession. I mean did Jesus tell everybody ‘confess your sins before you can do anything else, so we get all the info
on you and we get to know all the dirt on you?’ I mean, please! Confessing to men, not to God. I can confess to
God any time I want to, and I don’t need you there to listen.”
“Ahhh. Yes, I see your point on the foibles of man, the weakness of even those in God’s service. I see what you
On that same day, I had just coincidentally scheduled a meeting with Bishop O’Flannery of New York Diocese. He was
going to see me personally to discuss a new program of afternoon basketball that the schools were really hot on, and
they needed money for.
It just so happened that the entire world turned upside down that day. Not literally, but theologically, the front page
of the Times said it best. In its bold, 144 point headline: Religion Debunked. ‘The world’s top scientists have come
together to discredit religion, ritual worship as destructive and unhealthy, divisive rather than life-affirming.” It cited
historical excesses and wars, motivations to violence that religion had allegedly implanted in men.
I was quite taken aback. I nearly questioned my own faith when confronted with such overwhelming opposition. But
there it was, Daily News, Post, USA Today, all on and on about these scientists and how they had “proven” neuro-
biologically that religion had a narcotic effect on the mind, and it distorted what they defined as “reality,” in such a
way that events, even trivial events throughout the day would be misinterpreted as having divine causation.
I was in a cab on my way to Bishop O’Flannery, and I blurted out, “MIS-interpreted?”
The cab driver replied, “Yes, father? You want to go Saint Patrick’s cathedral? Yes? I understand.”
“What is your name, sir,” I asked my driver.
The driver told me that he was “Abu,” and that he had immigrated from the middle east.
“What do you think of the word ‘religion?’” I asked him.
“Religion? It is what we do. A tradition. Tradition in the service of Allah. That is religion.”
“Tradition? Tradition connotes cultural practice, doesn’t it? Not particularly a divine intervention or dictate, mandate?”
“Well the roots of religion are in Allah, of course. All religion comes from Allah.”
“Then how is it that our religions, yours and mine, would be so vastly different, greatly?”
“I don’t know how different we are.”
“Well for instance, uh, are you not allowed to eat pork, a pig?”
“This is true.”
“But I can. I eat ham on Easter Sunday, a cooked ham, pig. And it’s quite the most religious day of the year. It’s
certainly significant given our, our opposing, our opposing norms, conventions on the matter.”
“I am not qualified to comment on that question, father. Sir.”
“Thank you. Thank you for considering my questions. I appreciate it.”
“No problem. We are there. It’s seventeen fifty, sir father.”
I paid him, and I gave him a tip.
The cathedral looked quite intimidating that morning. It was not beautiful. It was strong and overpowering. I felt
insignificant as a single man, even one who is a priest, in such a striking traditional structure.
I would have to address these questions to Bishop O’Flannery, and I feared that my tongue might fall behind and slip,
cause me great embarrassment before the Bishop if I faltered on these fundamental bedrock principles of the church.
I would certainly pay a price.
“Not today,” I said to no one.
Today I would be called upon to answer. This was not going to be pleasant. These news articles would surely have
stunned everyone in and around the church.
I imagined that I could keep the discussion in the arena of the basketball funding which was mostly to pay for
personnel and security. Not so much for the balls or uniforms or the sneakers or anything like that, it was to keep the
lights on. It was to keep the courts safe. It was to give us the time away from our other duties to actually show up
and supervise. That’s what it was really. It was not a great sum monetarily, but it was enough to make or break a
lot of these schools which ran on shoestring budgets.
I was good with the numbers, and I squeezed the most education that I could from the dollars. That was my function
as one of the church’s comptrollers. I played with money. I invested it. I invested in mutual funds on behalf of the
church as well as government bonds, etcetera. Whatever dividends we received were quickly gobbled up by the
needy members of our organization.
The Bishop paced nervously. He hung up his cellular phone, and his eyes were relieved yet devastated. He was
happy. He was sad. He was someone you couldn’t predict the next thought or the next gesture. He was unlike any
of my previous encounters with him. He was apparently on the inside of some plan.
He said, “Father Dmitri, we’re going to respond.”
“To the article? The declaration by the World Science Federation?” I said.
“Are you as appalled and disgusted by this inappropriate blasphemy as I?”
I refrained from admitting that I was not appalled. I was not sickened. I was infinitely curious of this development. It
was not the first time that science had challenged the franchise of faith. My answer however was clear. “Yes, your
Excellency. I’m horrified by this.”
“And it is quite inappropriate?”
“We are going to take care of it.”
“We are? How?”
“The Vatican. It’s done. We shall prevail.”
“I don’t understand. What will they say? How will they prevail? We’ll simply say yes to their no? Or no to their yes?
What shall we do?”
“We will prove. Proof.”
“We’ll prove the evidence of God, of divinity?”
“Yes, yes yes. Proof. Incontrovertible evidence that religion – ours – is superior to the ‘reality’ of the science
“What I got out of the article,” I said, “is that they didn’t want to define reality as divorced from God, but only the
observed neurological effects of, of religious philosophy. I think they had limited some of their observations to that
“Yes. I know.”
“So, I was thinking that, perhaps, an, appropriate line of response would attack their word ‘reality.’”
“Yes, yes. I’m sure we are. Don’t worry about that. It’s—“
He hesitated and looked me in the face.
“Father, I wish to confide in you. Don’t take any of this the wrong way.”
“The Vatican’s methods may seem a little bit old fashioned. They may seem harsh.”
“I don’t understand. Will they attempt to destroy the scientists, as opponents?”
“Oh yes. Destroy. But, of course, the proof we seek is not to destroy them, but to have them destroy themselves.
Their own bankrupt philosophy is suicidal. It’s that simple.” He laughed.
I was quite disturbed that he would place the question in such a vulgar, brutal dichotomy. But, logically, we were
discussing proof, God, Life, absence of God, death.
Why did that seem strange to me? I don’t know. Seeing how I had merely come there for the basketball money, not
to settle ancient questions of faith, but I had to contend now with this even newer question. Why would Bishop O’
Flannery laugh at the notion of science as suicide?
It was strange. I didn’t really understand, until the following day.
I woke up, and the Daily News rested against the door of the rectory. Their new front page article was quite odd,
“Three World Federation Scientists Found Dead.”
Two were based in Rome, one in Bombay. They had allegedly killed themselves in the night. They’d hung
themselves. Their guilt was so overwhelming, according to their suicide notes, that they felt as Judas Iscariot felt.
They had betrayed God Almighty. The three men hanged themselves at midnight. They left whatever money, awards,
prizes – one of them a Nobel Peace Prize – they left those at their feet as they hanged inside of their homes, naked.
Their fluids, their bile and feces ran out onto their money and accolades, and it left quite a disgusting mess for those
who found them like that.
The three deceased were single, unmarried men. They had not contacted each other over any of the telephones they
had access to. It seemed they had independently come to this conclusion, that what they had done could not be
lived with. This was even bigger news than the previous day.
Television coverage was nearly non-stop. Live interviews rang out across the radio spectrum. Church leaders,
theologians, and the Pope had spoken out also. “Without God,” said he, “there is really no reason to go on living.”
I thought this was still appropriate, yet somehow exploitative at the same time. It was, however, the Holy Father’s
prerogative and responsibility to comment on such divine matters. These were certainly important religious
questions, vitally important to billions of people. Perhaps these were the most important questions of all, as faith is
all that the religions boil down to in the end.
I called the Bishop. He had not approved the basketball money that I had originally requested, both of us lost in the
haze of yesterday’s frenzy. I explained to his assistant who I was, and she did remember me from the day before.
When the Bishop clicked on his telephone, there was a meeting in progress. Words were spoken, the language
unfamiliar. I did then recognize the words as Italian, though I did not understand the meaning.
“Shh, shhh,” was the phrase that caught my attention. The other word, not yet shhh’d, was “Strykovich.”
“Yes Father?” Said Bishop O’Flannery, “Did we not complete your business?”
“No, Excellency. The amount was not finalized.”
“For the basketball programs.”
“It’s not a good time,” he said. “How much do you need?”
“Thirty two thousand, to start.”
“That’s a little pricey. But fine. Make it happen.”
“We shall speak again next month.”
Strykovich? Not a common name, and it was especially strange coming in an Italian accent. Where had I heard the
name, and why did it seem so important all of a sudden?
I caught the night service, and I accepted the Eucharist that evening. Angel Martinez was present. He appeared
conflicted, yet still a part of our flock. I approached him after mass.
“Padre. What’s up?” he said.
“I didn’t expect you here so soon. You must be a fast reader.”
“I’m all confused. And scared.”
“Confused I can understand, given the last few day’s events. But why are you scared?”
“I’m scared to believe, and I’m scared not to believe.”
“So how do you win?”
“You have to truly believe,” I said. It was at that moment I recalled where I had seen the name Strykovich. He was
quoted in the Times article. Doctor Alexei Strykovich PhD., was the Connecticut microbiologist who had won the Nobel
Prize for culturing human stem cells in the laboratory. He was also one of the World Federation of Scientists, and his
name appeared as one of the signed participants of their manifesto.
Was he in some kind of danger? Was he suicidal? Did our people have knowledge that he might be guilt ridden as
the others were?
This was all happening so fast, and it was so confusing that I did not have time to digest what I had been presented.
I walked across the courtyard and to our rectory. There I searched for the previous day’s Times. The article did state
Doctor Strykovich’s home city. It turned out to be Hartford. The Hartford White Pages listed several Strykovichs.
None of them were the Nobel Prize winner.
I phoned Hartford directory assistance, and I explained that the matter was life and death. A man may be suicidal,
and as a priest my moral duty was to help him. The operator did not believe my story. I asked for her supervisor.
The supervisor also did not believe my story. His number remained unlisted.
I then called the university where Strykovich taught, and I asked for the microbiology department. They knew him
well, and they were willing to give me his telephone number. I assured them that this was urgent, though gave no
specifics as to my purpose or involvement.
“Doctor Strykovich?” I said into my telephone.
“Yes, speaking,” said the voice.
“My name is Father Dmitri, from the New York Diocese. How are you?”
“Fine, fine. You’re a priest?”
“Yes, Doctor. I’m calling about the Times article.”
“I really don’t want to discuss it further.”
“Were you contacted by others here at our church?”
“You mean priests? No.”
“Yes, I mean the Bishop of New York, or others here in the church.”
“No churchmen. No. Reporters, you see. The world’s press.”
“The Italian press?”
“Yes, them too.”
“You were contacted today by the Italian press?”
“Yes. I already gave my interview.”
“Did you tell them your home address?”
“My what? Address? Perhaps. I told them many things.”
“Did they ask you—“
“Father, I don’t mean to be rude. But I must get back to work. My experiment is timed, and time is critical. Good
It was then he hung up the telephone. It was then that my faith suffered its greatest blow of my adult life.
For although it was not likely, or even close to probable, I had concluded that Doctor Strykovich could be in danger.
Not just danger, but mortal danger of imminent harm.
As the medical doctors pledge in the Hippocratic Oath to first do no harm, so too was it understood in the priesthood.
We should first not harm those we seek to save. We are morally obligated to protect and defend those we
encounter, especially those we encounter during the course of our duties in service to God.
Who were these men in Bishop O’Flannery’s office who spoke of Doctor Strykovich?
I took the keys to the church sedan, and also the cellular phone. I drove out of the city and across the Connecticut
state line. The hour was late, and time was quickly approaching eleven.
“Father Goebbels, I must apologize in advance for requesting this favor.” I asked my long time friend and associate
to use his knowledge of the Internet on my behalf.
“Father Dmitri, what you ask is very borderline.”
“This I know. But can you do it? I am en route now. I suspect that Doctor Strykovich may be suicidal, or worse.”
“What does worse mean?”
“It means that I have less than an hour to intervene. Can you find the address?”
“I don’t know.”
“We must intervene.”
“I believe there could be a plot to murder him.”
“What do you base this plot on?”
“Things I have overheard. That is all I can say.”
“You had better be right on this.”
“For all our sakes, I had better be wrong.”
Father Goebbels was once a computer hacker. He had reformed himself, and taken Jesus Christ into his heart. I had
just tempted him to undo all the progress he had striven for.
He told me the address, in just minutes time. He even gave me directions from the freeway.
I parked on the street, and I came to the house where Doctor Strykovich was said to live. Several windows were
available to peep in. It was 11:42pm.
Shadows stirred inside of the dwelling.
My body was jammed into the shrubbery outside of the living room, like some common peeping Tom.
Mysterious forms, black shadows, they dragged an unconscious gentleman. They pulled him along a corridor, and
toward his most certain death. My fears were confirmed.
I removed my outer robe, and I took a large stone in hand. Doctor Strykovich’s front door had glass panels, four of
them in a cross pattern. I stuffed my robe against the pane of glass, and I slammed the stone into the robe. It made
a thudding sound, but it did not break. I hit harder. The glass shattered. The sound was not as quiet as I would
Reaching in, I turned the dead bolt lock. Before I could enter the house, a figure appeared at the corridor. He was
black, all black. His face was masked, and he held a silenced pistol, a slender weapon designed to assassinate.
I ran from the pistol. My heart thumped, and my feet skidded across the lawn. Bullets whisked past me. He meant to
kill me, and but for the grace of God, he surely would have. The assassin pursued me into the dark bushes, and into
a neighbor’s yard.
As I ran for my life, around the house, and into further bushes and shrubs, I recalled that the cellular phone was
inside my trouser pocket. I felt for it, and I took it in hand. The auto-dial preset was already programmed to 9-1-1,
the general emergency number.
Shots whisked through the bushes at my head. The leaves shredded and flew apart as I dove down onto the
“Nine one one, what is your emergency?” The little voice spoke from the telephone.
I crawled away, along the hedge.
It was to no avail. He stepped out, just ahead of me. The whites of his eyes, the only bit of humanity visible in him,
he took aim at my face.
“Please help Doctor Strykovich,” I said into the cellular phone. I closed my eyes then, in preparation for death.
Please, Jesus take my soul.
When the death did not come, I again opened my eyes. The assassin looked to the house of Strykovich, and he
turned back to me. His eyes had flared even wider.
The man bent down lower, thrusting the silenced barrel of the firearm into my face. He knocked the cellular phone
with the silencer. He breathed out in an exasperated huff. He placed the end of the barrel to my forehead, and he
cocked back the hammer.
At once he ran off, back into the house. I watched as moments later, two men, both hooded and armed fled the
house. They slammed car doors, and they drove off at a high speed.
I climbed to my feet, and I stumbled on toward the house. The door remained open, where I had broken the glass.
Inside were signs of a slight struggle. I descended the corridor toward the kitchen. There I found Doctor Strykovich,
in a large home laboratory off the main corridor. They had left him dropped in a heap on the floor. He remained
I placed my fingers upon his throat to feel for a pulse. His heart still beat. They had left him as he was. They had left
us both alive.
The Doctor awoke soon after. I was the first person he saw. He had a second chance to lead a spiritual life.
“Who are you?” he said.
“I am Father Dmitri. We spoke on the telephone earlier.”
“You’re one of them!”
“No, Doctor. I am most certainly not.”
“You’re a priest!”
“That I am.”
“What are you doing in my house?”
“Just restoring our faith. Both of us.”
“They were going to kill me.”
“Yes. But I have convinced them not to.”
“How did you do that?”