The early morning sky glowed pink and orange at the horizon when the two priests finished Mass in a small copse of trees in a corner of Louisiana. A third priest, Philip Scott from Texas, a vicar-general to four bishops in that Republic, had met them the night before. He approached the two, walking out of a small field of old, dried corn. He had said Mass at four, while the others slept. They took turns sleeping and watching.
Outside The Wilderness, food could be found. One of the strange phenomena was the proliferation of small animals, such a squirrel and rabbit. Also, if one could catch a Canadian Goose, such birds flourished in the southern states below the glacier line, which was covering Canada and the upper states.
Philip could be seen from a distance. He was a large African-American, In his hands were two rabbits.
One of the great tools in Antonio's backpack was a complete trapper's set and knives. The priests would have a good breakfast today.
"And I will move them to jealously with those who are not a people, " laughed Philip. He was an Anglican convert as well, and still quoted the psalms from the old Longmans and Green Breviary. No one minded.
"I also have some Manna Berries," he exclaimed. Manna Berries, named by the southern Americans, were a strange type of red berry which grew on small, short bushes which proliferated after the nuclear blast. People called them Manna Berries for three reasons. One, these berries could be found every where from the western boundary of the Republic of Texas to the Atlantic coast of Florida. One could make sauce out of the Manna Berries to put on rabbit, for example. Two, they just appeared after the first blast, and three, one got thoroughly sick of them. Rabbit and Manna Berries was the most common dinner in the South.
This dish was becoming the ordinary daily dinner of most people.
"All we need is a food kiosk," said Antonio. The three priests got to work cooking. Antonio's backpack was a traveling survival kitchen. He even had salt, a rare commodity.
"Do you trust the tenders of the food kiosks, Philip? Antonio was curious about the new, small bartering stations which had sprung up in the South. People who horded food in cans or dried food stuffs, mostly stolen from huge warehouses, such as the old WalMarts, people who did not have traps like Antonio had in his backpack, traded canned goods for rabbits and squirrels. Four cans of carrots, peas, spinach, or peaches could be traded for one squirrel. A rabbit bought five cans, or four cans and a dried packet of soup stuff.
That the small animals flourished was considered by most people, the enduring Christians of the South, as a direct blessing from God. All people prayed a prayer of thanks before eating, knowing that people farther north were starving to death in many areas.
Another anomaly was a new species of green grape, which grew wild at the edge of forests. When Anselm in Rome had heard this, he declared these grapes the official wine-making grapes for the altar wine in America.
In the Republic of Texas, there were vineyards cultivating these wild grapes and wine makers specifically created a vinum mustum, an approved young wine for sacramental use. The apostolic letter from Anselm on the use of young wine greatly helped the priests in America continue saying the Mass.
All priests felt that God had given them the new wild grapes as sheer gift. The common name for these grapes, and the wine from them was Meribah, because of the complaints of the laity of the odd taste when first used, especially if the priest could only use the juice he himself made by pressing the grapes in the chalice.
Priests joked about Meribah Must, but it was, literally a God-send.
"OK, we have time for news. What is this great news from Texas you promised to share, Philip", asked James.
"Well, in one word, conversions. We are seeing, literally, thousands of people asking to become Catholics. Near San Antonio, we baptized at least 3,000 people over Christmas, and near Houston, more than that came in . The bishops are also ordaining more priests. We think there are as many as 700 new priests ready to go out into other areas for ministry. In fact, several were sent into occupied territory, in Oklahoma, and contact was made with some of the Benedictines in exile there."
James passed around the stew of Manna Berries and rabbit. "Good, and I imagine this will be shared at the meeting."
Philip took his plate, "Yes, we all need good news. There is too much bad news. I also have to share that more executions in New Mexico and Arizona by the Chinese Army have basically decimated the Catholic populations in those two states. We only know of one bishop who has escaped and is in hiding. Three bishops were killed in January."
"It is amazing how the Texans have kept the Chinese out of the Republic," said Antonio. "Truly amazing."
"Well, we have guns. Most people outside The Wilderness have no guns owing to the registrations of 2014. The government took away guns in most states. Thankfully, Texans were stubborn. And, thankfully, the Chinese have run out of ammunition, as the glaciers have interrupted movement through Canada and the seaports no longer exist. Who would have thought after the first invasion that Nature would stop the largest army on earth from completing a take-over of America."
"You mean God, not Nature," noted Antonio and all three priests nodded.
After breaking camp and making sure no one could tell where they had eaten, the three proceeded south and east from their corner of Louisiana. The walk to the meeting would take at least two more full days. "At least it is not raining, " said James. "Or snowing, " said Antonio.
To be continued....