Father Verrick led Julia and Gina through a veritable maze of corridors, rooms, and alleys as he brought them to his office, talking all the way. They introduced themselves with pseudonyms, with only a hint of guilt. Julia said she was Jane Bremmer, and Gina indicated her name was Ginny Collier. The Sergeant desperately hoped she would not forget either one of the fake names.
As for himself, Father Verrick started by telling them something of his ministry in the “Abandoned Warehouse District,” or AWD for short.
Although the Catholic Church had long ago abandoned celibacy requirements for priests, Father Verrick was young and had not yet spent time pursuing a wife. He had been tasked by the Archbishop of Sporades with handling the indigent population in the AWD . . . and then seemingly forgotten. He had little money, and less help, and seemingly an ever-growing population relying on him alone for spiritual and physical nourishment.
Gina looked around at the occasional shanty they passed and asked a question on the top of her mind.
“So, they can’t just take a collar? I thought that was what the indent program was for, a sort of last resort for indigents.”
Father Verrick sighed, as if he had explained this to other people several times before.
He said, “The indentured servitude program is fine for able-bodied people. But these are cripples, the mentally unstable, and the elderly. Nobody wants an indent that can’t walk or pick up heavy loads. Nobody wants an indent that will likely die in the coming weeks. No, these are the true dregs of society. The ones who cannot work. The ones nobody wants. They have no families, and nowhere else to go.”
Julia, too, had never seen anything like this. She felt even more disturbed, having spent her childhood in the home of a Tetrarch, within the ultimate privilege of a ruling family.
She said, “Surely there’s a government program that could tend to their needs.”
“There used to be, before the Welfare Wars,” Father Verrick said. “The government would provide food and shelter for indigents. But, like most government programs it was subject to abuse. Nothing really works, especially at the government level, when there is no accountability. So, the people still suffered. Before, they suffered under the auspices of a supposedly benevolent government. Now, they just suffer.”
Julia did not really like the sound of that, although she was opposed to many of the things for which her father stood, and the government he represented.
Father Verrick nodded. “Governments don’t care about people, Ms. Bremmer. Certain individuals working within them might, but governments are just cold bureaucracies. They care not whether people suffer or thrive. They are merely impersonal structures imposing order.
“Now, when people outside government insist those in control ‘do something,’ that is when you get programs for the poor. It makes people feel better knowing that their government is ‘doing something’ for those in need.
“It matters not to them if the program does more harm than good. It matters not that the program inevitably leads to corruption and negligence. All that matters is that people feel good the government program is there.
“But as we have seen, that cannot last forever. Ultimately, the house of cards falls apart and we have an incident like the Welfare Wars, and everything has to be recalibrated. Now the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction, back to the way it was for millennia in societies past. Now, it is up to charities to care for the truly indigent.”
“Catholic charities?” Julia said.
Neither of the women were Catholic. They shared a glance.
Father Verrick nodded again. He said, “We are one of many, but this small effort is not nearly enough. I cannot singlehandedly feed and care for all these people every day.”
They rounded a corner and he stopped, reaching down to an elderly woman who held her hands up as soon as she heard his voice. The woman looked old, and Julia decided she must be blind. Her wrinkled face tilted toward the young priest and she broke into a smile as they hugged.
“There you are, Ms. Tomei. Are you doing good today?”
“Bless you, Father Verrick. Bless you.”
“Bless you, Ms. Tomei. And I hope to see you at mass on Sunday.”
She nodded and smiled again. He patted her on the shoulder and continued walking.
Julia still had trouble grappling with the emotional breadth of the problem. She looked back at the old woman sitting on the ground outside the shack as they walked away.
She said, “Charity is good. Maybe the government could fund charities instead of frittering all the money away.”
“Ha! If the government funded the Church, it would want a say in Church matters. Absolutely not. We do not need money from the government, and besides, the government is not going to give us any. No, what we really need is for the government to leave us alone. I am constantly fighting off eviction bots and the like, as you saw earlier.”
“But you said yourself, you need help. You can’t do it alone.”
“We get volunteers, much like you two. And, there is an ecumenical movement afoot. I have received word that the Baptists and Methodists are interested in teaming up with us. It seems we are the largest, in terms of numbers of souls fed every day. But, the Baptists and the Methodists have more money they can allocate for things like this.
“So, rest assured, one way or another these people’s needs will be met. Without the government, thank you very much. Churches and charities will do what we have always done, down through the ages.”
He stopped walking and faced the two women, his face changing so abruptly it startled them.
“There’s other issues surrounding the government. I can’t prove it, but I think they are stealing people away, out of the AWD. Why, I don’t know. But . . . it can’t be good.”