2nd May 1946.
Summer dawns are so early that the time between the setting of the moon and daybreak is short. So that, although they have walked very quickly, at the darkest hour of the night they are still in the neighbourhood of the town of Caesarea, and a branch of thorn-bush which they have lit, does not give sufficient light. They are compelled to stop for some time, also because the girl, who is not accustomed to walking by night, often stumbles over stones half buried in the dust.
« It is better to stop for a little while. The girl cannot see and she is tired » says Jesus.
« No, I can go on... Let us go far, far away... He may come. We passed here to go to that house » says the girl with chattering teeth, mixing Hebrew and Latin in a new language to make herself understood.
« We will go behind those trees and nobody will see us. Do not be afraid » Jesus replies to her.
« Yes, be not afraid. That... Roman is dead drunk under the table by now... » says Bartholomew to reassure her.
« And you are with us. And we love you! We will not let anybody hurt you. I say! We are twelve strong men... » says Peter, who is little taller than she is, but as sturdy as she is lean, and as burnt by the sun as she is snow-white, a poor flower brought up in the shade so that she might be more exciting and valuable.
« You are a little sister. And brothers defend their sisters... » says John.
The girl, at the last flash of light of the improvised torch, looks at her consolers with her clear iron-grey eyes, lightly tinged with blue, two limpid eyes still shining with the tears shed in the moment of terror shortly before... She is suspicious. And yet she trusts them. And together with the others she crosses the dry rivulet beyond the road to enter an estate at the end of which there is a thick orchard.
They sit down in the dark, waiting. The men perhaps would like to sleep. But every noise makes the girl moan and the gallop of a horse causes her to cling convulsively to the neck of Bartholomew, who, perhaps because he is old, inspires confidence and trust. It is thus impossible to sleep.
« Don't be afraid! When one is with Jesus, nothing harmful happens any more » says Bartholomew.
« Why? » asks the girl trembling and still clinging to the apostle's neck.
« Because Jesus is God on the Earth, and God is stronger than men. »
« God? What is God? »
« Poor creature! How have they brought you up? Have they not taught you anything? »
« To keep my skin white, my hair shiny, to obey masters... to always say yes... But I could not say yes to the Roman... he was ugly and he frightened me... He frightened me all day long... He was always there... at the bath, when I was getting dressed... those eyes... and hands... oh!... And who does not say “yes” gets beaten... »
« You will not be beaten. Neither the Roman nor his hands are here any longer... There is peace... » Jesus replies to her.
And the others remark: « It is horrible! Treated like valuable animals, no better than animals! Worse!... Because an animal knows at least that they teach it to plough, to have a saddle on and a bit, because that is its task. But this girl was thrown there without knowing anything!... »
« If I had known I would have thrown myself into the sea. He had said: “I will make you happy”... »
« And he did make you happy. But in a way that he had never imagined. Happy for the Earth and for Heaven. Because to know Jesus is happiness » says the Zealot.
There is silence: everybody is meditating on the horrors of the world. Then, in a low voice, the girl asks Bartholomew: « Will you tell me what is God? And why He is God? Because He is good and handsome? »
« God... How can one teach you, since you are completely devoid of religious ideas? »
« Religious? What is it? »
« Most High Wisdom! I am like one who is getting drowned in a deep sea! What shall I do in front of this abyss? »
« What seems so difficult to you, Bartholomew, is so simple. It is an abyss, but an empty one. And you can fill it up with the Truth. It is worse when the abyss is full of filth, poison, snakes... Speak with simplicity, as you would speak to a baby. And she will understand you better than an adult would. »
« Oh! Master! But could You not do it? »
« I could. But the girl will accept the words of one like her more easily than she would listen to My words of God. And in any case... You will have to face such abysses in future, and fill them with Me. After all, you must learn to do so. »
« That is true! I will try. Listen, girl... Do you remember your mother? »
« Yes, sir. Flowers have bloomed for seven years without her. But before that I was with her. »
« All right. And do you remember her? Do you love her? »
« Oh! » a sob joined to her exclamation says everything.
« Don't weep, poor creature... Listen... The love you feel for your mother... »
« ... and my father... and my little brothers... » says the girl sobbing.
« Yes... for your family, the love for your family, your thoughts for it, your desire to go back to it... »
« Never again!!... »
« Who knows!... All that is something which can be called the religion of the family. So religions, religious ideas, are the love, the thought, the desire to go where He or they are, in whom we believe, whom we love and desire. »
« Ah! If I believe in that God there, I will have a religion... It is easy! »
« Well. What is easy? To have a religion or to believe in that God there? »
« Both. Because it is easy to believe in a good God like that one there. The Roman mentioned so many of them and swore... He used to say: “by goddess Venus!”, “by god Cupid”. But they could not be good gods because he did things which were not good, while mentioning them. »
« The girl is not stupid » remarks Peter in a low voice.
« But I still do not know what is God. I see Him a man like you... So God is a man. And how can one tell? In what is He stronger than everybody? He has neither swords nor servants... »
« Master, help me... »
« No, Nathanael! You are doing so well... »
« You are saying so out of kindness... However, let us see how we can proceed. Listen, girl... God is not a man. He is like a light, a look, a sound, so big that He fills the sky and the earth illuminating everything, He sees everything, directs everything and gives orders to everything... »
« Also to the Roman? Then He is not a good God. I am afraid! »
« God is good and gives good orders, and He had ordered men not to make war, not to make slaves, to leave little girls to their mothers and not to frighten them. But men do not always listen to the orders of God. »
« But you do... »
« Yes, I do. »
« But if He is stronger than anybody else, why does He not make men obey Him? And how can He speak if He is not a man? »
« God... oh! Master!... »
« Go on, Bartholomai. You are so wise a teacher, you can express the most sublime thoughts with so much simplicity, and you are afraid? Do you not know that the Holy Spirit is on the lips of those who teach Justice? »
« It seems so easy when we listen to You... and all Your words are in here... But to draw them out when we have to do what You do!... Oh! misery of us poor men! What worthless teachers we are! »
« To acknowledge your worthlessness is to predispose your spirits to the teaching of the Paraclete Spirit... »
« All right. Listen, girl. God is strong, very strong, stronger than Caesar, than all men put together with their armies and war-machines. But He is not a cruel master who makes people always say yes, under pain of the lash if one does not say so. God is a father. Did your father love you? »
« So much! He named me Aurea Galla because gold is precious and Gaul is our fatherland, and he used to say that I was dearer to him than the gold he had once possessed and than our fatherland... »
« Did your father beat you? »
« No. Never. Even if I was naughty he used to say to me: “My poor daughter!” and he wept... »
« There you are! That is what God does. He is a father and He weeps if we are bad, but He does not compel us to obey Him. But those who are bad will be punished one day with horrible tortures... »
« Oh! lovely! The master who took me away from my mother and took me to the island and the Roman in tortures! And will I see them? »
« You will be near God and you will see, if you believe in Him and you are good. But to be good you must not hate even the Roman. »
« No? How can I do that?!... »
« Praying for him or... »
« What is to pray? »
« It is to speak to God telling Him what we want... »
« But I want a dreadful death for my masters! » says the girl with wild vehemence.
« No, you must not. Jesus will not love you if you say so... »
« Why? »
« Because we must not hate those who injured us. »
« But I cannot love them... »
« Forget them for the time being... Try to forget them. Later, when you know more about God, you will pray for them... So we were saying that God is powerful but He leaves His children free. »
« Am I a child of God? Have I two fathers? How many sons has He? »
« All men are children of God, because He made them all. See the stars up there? He made them. And these plants? He made them. And the earth on which we are sitting, and that bird which is singing and the sea which is so big, everything and all men. And men are His children more than anything else, as they are His children because of that thing which is called soul and which is light, sound, look, not as big as His, which fill Heaven and Earth completely, but are beautiful and they never die as He never dies. »
« Where is the soul? Have I got one? »
« Yes and it is in your heart, and it is that thing that made you understand that the Roman was bad, and that certainly will not make you wish to be like him. Is that right? »
« Yes... » The girl ponders after her uncertain yes... She then says with confidence: « Yes! It was like a voice within me and a need to have help... and with another voice, but that one was mine, I called my mother... because I did not know that there was God, that there was Jesus... If I had known, I would have called Him with that voice which I had within me... »
« You have understood well, child, and you will grow in Light. I am telling you., Believe in the true God, listen to the voice of your soul, devoid of acquired wisdom, but devoid also of evil will, and you will have a Father in God, and in death, which is the passage from the Earth to Heaven for those who believe in the true God and are good, you will have a place in Heaven, near your Lord » says Jesus laying His hand on the head of the girl, who changes position and kneels down saying:
« Near You. It is nice to be with You. Do not part from me, Jesus. I now know who You are and I prostrate myself. At Caesarea I was afraid to do so... But You seemed a man to me. I now know that You are a God hidden in a man and You are a Father and Protector to me. »
« And Saviour, Aurea Galla. »
« And Saviour. You saved me. »
« And I will save you even more. You will have a new name... »
« Are You going to deprive me of the name which my father gave me? The master on the island called me Aurea Quintillia, because they divided us according to complexion and number and I was the fifth blonde... But why do You not leave me the name given to me by my father? »
« I am not taking it off you. But you will have in addition to your old name, a new one, the eternal one. »
« Which? »
« Christian. Because the Christ saved you. But it is dawning. Let us go... See, Nathanael, it is easy to speak of God to empty abyssess... You spoke very well. The girl will improve quickly in Truth... Aurea, go ahead with My brothers... »
The girl obeys but timidly. She would prefer to remain with Bartholomew, who understands and promises: « I am coming at once, too. Go, be obedient... » And when he is with Jesus, Peter, Simon and Matthew, he remarks: « It's a pity that Valeria will have her. She is always a heathen... »
« I cannot impose her on Lazarus... »
« There is Nike, Master » suggests Matthew.
« And Eliza... » says Peter.
« And Johanna... She is a friend of Valeria and Valeria would cede the girl to her willingly. She would be in a good home » says the Zealot.
Jesus is pensive and silent...
« You will decide... I am going to join the girl, as she is always turning round. She trusts me because I am old... I would keep her... one daughter more... But she is not from Israel... » and he goes away, the good but too Israelite Nathanael.
Jesus looks at him depart and shakes His head.
« Why that gesture, Master? » asks the Zealot.
« Because... it grieves Me to see that wise people are also slaves to prejudice... »
« However... let us keep this to ourselves... Bartholomew is right... and in actual fact... You should provide... Remember Syntyche and John... Don't let the same thing happen... Send her to Syntyche... » says Peter who is afraid of trouble in case the heathen girl should stay with them.
« John will not live long... Syntyche is not yet mature enough to be the teacher of a girl like this one... It is not a suitable place... »
« And yet You must not keep her. Consider that Judas will soon be with us. And Judas, Master, allow me to tell You, is a lustful man and a... one who is inclined to speak to gain some profit... and he has too many friends among the Pharisees... » insists the Zealot.
« That's it! Simon is right! Just what I was thinking! » exclaims Peter. « Do as he says, Master!... »
Jesus ponders but is silent... He then says: « Let us pray! And the Father will help us... » and, at the rear of the others, they pray fervently.
Dawn is breaking... They pass by a village and resume walking in the country... The sun is becoming warmer and warmer. They stop to eat in the shade of a huge walnut-tree.
« Are you tired? » Jesus asks the girl who is eating with no relish. « Tell Me and we will stop. »
« No, no. Let us go... »
« We have asked her several times. But she always says no... » says James of Alphaeus.
« I can go on, I am fit! Let us go far away... »
They resume their journey. But Aurea remembers something. « I have a purse. The ladies said to me: “You will give it when you are near the mountains.” The mountains are here and I am giving it. » And she rummages in the sack where Livia put some clothes for her... She takes out the purse and gives it to Jesus.
« Their offerings... They did not want to be thanked. They are better than many among us... Take it, Matthew. And keep this money. It will be used as secret alms. »
« Shall I not tell Judas of Kerioth? »
« No. »
« He will see the girl... »
Jesus does not reply... They set out again, but they proceed with difficulty because of the intense heat, the dust and dazzling light. Then they begin to climb the first ramifications of Mount Carmel, I think. Although it is more shady and cooler here, Aurea walks slowly and often stumbles.
Bartholomew goes back to the Master. « Master, the girl is feverish and exhausted. What shall we do? »
They consult. Should they stop? Or proceed carrying her? They are undecided. At last they decide that they must at least reach the road to Sicaminon to ask assistance of some wayfarer on horseback or in a wagon. And they would like to carry the girl in their arms, but she is heroic in her will to go farther away and keeps repeating: « I can walk, I am fit! » and wants to proceed by herself. She is flushed, her eyes are feverish and she is really exhausted. But she does not give up... She walks slowly, agreeing to be supported by Bartholomew and Philip... But she proceeds... They are all really tired. But they realise that they must go on and they do so...
They are on the top of the hill. There is the opposite slope... The plain of Esdraelon is down there, and beyond it the hills among which is Nazareth...
« If we do not find anybody, we will stop at the peasants... » says Jesus...
They go on... Almost down on the plain they see a group of disciples. There is Isaac and John of Ephesus with his mother, and Abel of Bethlehem with his mother, and other disciples whose names I do not know. For the women there is a rustic cart drawn by a strong little mule. There are also two shepherds, Daniel and Benjamin, Joseph the boatman and others.
« It is Providence helping us! » exclaims Jesus and He tells everybody to stop while He goes to speak to the disciples and to the two women in particular.
He takes them aside with Isaac and tells them part of Aurea's adventure: « We took her away from a lustful master... I would like to take her to Nazareth to cure her because she is suffering from fear and exhaustion. But I have no vehicle. Where were you going? »
« To Bethlehem in Galilee, to Myrtha's. It is impossible to stand the heat in the plain » replies Isaac.
« Go to Nazareth first, I ask you to do so out of charity. Take the girl to My Mother and tell Her that I will be with Her in two or three days' time. The girl has a temperature, so pay no attention to her raving. I will tell you later... »
« Yes, Master. As You wish. We will leave at once. Poor creature! Did he thrash her? » ask the three.
« He wanted to profane her. »
« Oh!... How old is she? »
« About thirteen... »
« The coward! The lewd rogue! But we will love her. We are true mothers, not because we have been promoted such by merit, is that right, Naomi? »
« Of course it is, Myrtha. Lord, are You keeping her as a disciple? »
« I do not know yet... »
« If You keep her, we are here. I am not going back to Ephesus. I have sent friends to sell everything. I am staying with Myrtha... Remember us for anything the girl needs. You saved our sons and we want to save her. »
« We will see later... »
« Master, the two women disciples are reliable because of their holiness... » says Isaac pleading.
« It does not depend on Me... Pray fervently and do not mention anything to anybody. Have you understood? To anybody. »
« We will hold our tongues. »
« Come with the cart. » And Jesus goes back followed by Isaac who is driving the cart and by the two women.
The girl is lying on the grass seeking refreshment for her high temperature.
« Poor creature! But she will not die, will she? »
« What a beautiful girl! »
« My dear, do not be afraid. I am a mother, you know? Come... Hold her up, Myrtha... She is tottering... Help us, Isaac... Over here where she will not be jolted so much... Put her sack under her head... Let us put our mantles under her... Isaac, wet these linens and we will put them on her forehead... What a temperature, poor child... »
The two women are careful and motherly. Aurea is so overwhelmed by the high fever, that she is almost absent...
Everything is ready... The cart can start... Isaac before using his whip remembers: « Master, if You go to the bridge, You will find Judas of Kerioth. He is waiting for You like a beggar... It was he who told us that You were coming here. Peace to You, Master. We will get to Nazareth during the night! »
« Peace to You, Master » say the women disciples.
« Peace to you! »...
The cart trots away...
« Thanks be to the Lord!... » says Jesus.
« Yes. It is a good thing for the girl and because of Judas... It is better if he knows nothing... »
« Yes. It is better. So much better that I ask your hearts to make a sacrifice. We will part before arriving at Nazareth, and you people of the lake will go to Capernaum with Judas, whereas I with My brothers, Thomas and Simon will go to Nazareth. »
« We will do that, Master. And what will You say to these disciples who are waiting for You? »
« That it was urgent for us to inform My Mother of My arrival... Let us go... » and He joins the disciples who are so happy to be with their Master, that they do not ask any question.