By Father Manuel Julian Quiceno Zapata
CARTAGO, Colombia, APRIL 23, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is the winning story of the “Priestly Anecdotes” competition sponsored by Catholic.net, which received 820 entries from presbyters in 78 countries.
Father Manuel Julian Quiceno Zapata, of the Diocese of Cartago, Colombia, won the competition with this story, and was awarded a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
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Of what I experienced before hearing his confession, I remember the following.
As parish priest of a small village, I would often go out through the streets on Sunday, to greet people and give them a written catechesis, especially those who for different reasons did not go to church.
In the parish dedicated to St. Joseph, many had a habit that they fulfilled every Sunday without fail, as if it was a duty. This was to drink “some cold ones” — as they called beer. Hence, it was easy to know where to find this type of “faithful,” and he was also among them.
One day, when I finished my run, a lady approached me to ask me if I had recognized the “devil.” According to her, I had greeted him and he had received one of the messages that I gave out.
I had not seen the “devil,” or at least I don’t remember having seen any woman or man who looked like him.
On another occasion I had to go to the neighboring village to help a brother priest, but the parish car broke down and so I needed someone to take me.
What was my surprise when on asking some persons who might help me with this service, a boy immediately said to me: “Father, if you like I’ll call the ‘devil’ to take you.”
You can’t imagine what I thought at that moment. It seemed a joke, but then I accepted the proposal and that day I saw him for the first time.
I kept silent for a long time, as it was the first time I was making such a trip. Moreover, I thought, what can I talk about with the devil?
Then I spoke to him, but it seemed more like an interview than a conversation. That day, before ending the trip and without saying anything, I left a scapular of the Virgin of Carmel in his car.
Henceforth I saw him everywhere; now I recognized him and, although I always invited him to Mass, he always said: “Not now, I’ll do so one day; I have my reasons.”
Time passed and one day a boy who was waiting at the door of the church told me that someone needed me urgently, and that he didn’t want to go before speaking with me. The boy explained that it was a gravely ill man. Then I quickly looked for everything that was necessary for the visit.
How surprised I was when, arriving in the place, I discovered that the gravely ill man who had been waiting for a priest for several days was Ramon, the one whom they called “the devil;” a man of the camp who had lived through very difficult human situations.
He could not remember when or why they began to call him thus, but he had grown used to it. Now, lying in his bed, he was suffering from a terrible cancer and his end was approaching.
I remember very well what he said to me that day: “Father, do you remember me? I am the one they call ‘the devil,’ but I do not leave my soul to him; it belongs to God! Please, can you hear my confession?”
It was a very special moment, but even more so when I saw what he pressed in his hands while I heard his confession: a scapular, precisely the one I had left in his car. Now he was taking it on his journey to eternity.
Later, in that house I also saw a sheet on confession, one of those that I myself had left with him one Sunday at midday.
How great and mysterious God is. He works in silence and with simplicity, but in addition lets us share with everyone the gift he has given us. And that day the whole village was talking about it (and I was also thinking about it): I have heard the devil’s confession!
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This and the other stories of finalists and semi-finalists will soon be published in a book, as well as on the Catholic.net Web site.