The camerlegno began to feel the fog of wonder and adrenaline dissipating. As the Swiss Guard helped him down the Royal Staircase toward the Sistine Chapel, the camerlegno heard singing in St. Peter’s Square and he knew that mountains had been moved.
He had prayed for strength, and God had given it to him. At moments when he had doubted, God had spoken. Yours is a Holy mission, God had said. I will give you strength. Even with God’s strength, the camerlegno had felt fear, questioning the righteousness of his path.
If not you, God had challenged, then Who ?
If not now, then When ?
If not this way, then How ?
Jesus, God reminded him, had saved them all . . . saved them from their own apathy. With two deeds, Jesus had opened their eyes. Horror and Hope. The crucifixion and the resurrection. He had changed the world.
But that was millennia ago. Time had eroded the miracle. People had forgotten. They had turned to false idols—techno‑deities and miracles of the mind. What about miracles of the heart!
The camerlegno had often prayed to God to show him how to make the people believe again. But God had been silent. It was not until the camerlegno’s moment of deepest darkness that God had come to him. Oh, the horror of that night!
The camerlegno could still remember lying on the floor in tattered nightclothes, clawing at his own flesh, trying to purge his soul of the pain brought on by a vile truth he had just learned. It cannot be! he had screamed. And yet he knew it was. The deception tore at him like the fires of hell. The bishop who had taken him in, the man who had been like a father to him, the clergyman whom the camerlegno had stood beside while he rose to the papacy . . . was a fraud. A common sinner. Lying to the world about a deed so traitorous at its core that the camerlegno doubted even God could forgive it. “Your vow !” the camerlegno had screamed at the Pope. “You broke your vow to God! You, of all men!”
The Pope had tried to explain himself, but the camerlegno could not listen. He had run out, staggering blindly through the hallways, vomiting, tearing at his own skin, until he found himself bloody and alone, lying on the cold earthen floor before St. Peter’s tomb. Mother Mary, what do I do? It was in that moment of pain and betrayal, as the camerlegno lay devastated in the Necropolis, praying for God to take him from this faithless world, that God had come.
The voice in his head resounded like peals of thunder. “Did you vow to serve your God?”
“Yes!” the camerlegno cried out.
“Would you die for your God?”
“Yes! Take me now!”
“Would you die for your church?”
“Yes! Please deliver me!”
“But would you die for . . . mankind? “
It was in the silence that followed that the camerlegno felt himself falling into the abyss. He tumbled farther, faster, out of control. And yet he knew the answer. He had always known.
“Yes!” he shouted into the madness. “I would die for man! Like your son, I would die for them!”
Hours later, the camerlegno still lay shivering on his floor. He saw his mother’s face. God has plans for you, she was saying. The camerlegno plunged deeper into madness. It was then God had spoken again. This time with silence. But the camerlegno understood. Restore their faith.
If not me . . . then who?
If not now . . . then when?
As the guards unbolted the door of the Sistine Chapel, Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca felt the power moving in his veins . . . exactly as it had when he was a boy. God had chosen him. Long ago.
His will be done.
The camerlegno felt reborn. The Swiss Guard had bandaged his chest, bathed him, and dressed him in a fresh white linen robe. They had also given him an injection of morphine for the burn. The camerlegno wished they had not given him painkillers. Jesus endured his pain for three days on the cross! He could already feel the drug uprooting his senses . . . a dizzying undertow.
As he walked into the chapel, he was not at all surprised to see the cardinals staring at him in wonder. They are in awe of God, he reminded himself. Not of me, but how God works THROUGH me. As he moved up the center aisle, he saw bewilderment in every face. And yet, with each new face he passed, he sensed something else in their eyes. What was it? The camerlegno had tried to imagine how they would receive him tonight. Joyfully? Reverently? He tried to read their eyes and saw neither emotion.
It was then the camerlegno looked at the altar and saw Robert Langdon.