Never before had so many been so silent.
The faces in St. Peter’s Square, one by one, averted their eyes from the darkening sky and turned downward, each person in his or her own private moment of wonder. The media lights followed suit, dropping their beams back to earth as if out of reverence for the blackness now settling upon them. It seemed for a moment the entire world was bowing its head in unison.
Cardinal Mortati knelt to pray, and the other cardinals joined him. The Swiss Guard lowered their long swords and stood numb. No one spoke. No one moved. Everywhere, hearts shuddered with spontaneous emotion. Bereavement. Fear. Wonder. Belief. And a dread‑filled respect for the new and awesome power they had just witnessed.
Vittoria Vetra stood trembling at the foot of the basilica’s sweeping stairs. She closed her eyes. Through the tempest of emotions now coursing through her blood, a single word tolled like a distant bell. Pristine. Cruel. She forced it away. And yet the word echoed. Again she drove it back. The pain was too great. She tried to lose herself in the images that blazed in other’s minds . . . antimatter’s mind‑boggling power . . . the Vatican’s deliverance . . . the camerlegno . . . feats of bravery . . . miracles . . . selflessness. And still the word echoed . . . tolling through the chaos with a stinging loneliness.
He had come for her at Castle St. Angelo.
He had saved her.
And now he had been destroyed by her creation.
As Cardinal Mortati prayed, he wondered if he too would hear God’s voice as the camerlegno had. Does one need to believe in miracles to experience them? Mortati was a modern man in an ancient faith. Miracles had never played a part in his belief. Certainly his faith spoke of miracles . . . bleeding palms, ascensions from the dead, imprints on shrouds . . . and yet, Mortati’s rational mind had always justified these accounts as part of the myth. They were simply the result of man’s greatest weakness—his need for proof. Miracles were nothing but stories we all clung to because we wished they were true.
And yet . . .
Am I so modern that I cannot accept what my eyes have just witnessed? It was a miracle, was it not? Yes! God, with a few whispered words in the camerlegno’s ear, had intervened and saved this church. Why was this so hard to believe? What would it say about God if God had done nothing? That the Almighty did not care? That He was powerless to stop it? A miracle was the only possible response!
As Mortati knelt in wonder, he prayed for the camerlegno’s soul. He gave thanks to the young chamberlain who, even in his youthful years, had opened this old man’s eyes to the miracles of unquestioning faith.
Incredibly, though, Mortati never suspected the extent to which his faith was about to be tested . . .
The silence of St. Peter’s Square broke with a ripple at first. The ripple grew to a murmur. And then, suddenly, to a roar. Without warning, the multitudes were crying out as one.
Mortati opened his eyes and turned to the crowd. Everyone was pointing behind him, toward the front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Their faces were white. Some fell to their knees. Some fainted. Some burst into uncontrollable sobs.
Mortati turned, bewildered, following their outstretched hands. They were pointing to the uppermost level of the basilica, the rooftop terrace, where huge statues of Christ and his apostles watched over the crowd.
There, on the right of Jesus, arms outstretched to the world . . . stood Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca.