Antonio did not stay long at Our Lady of Walsingham parish. He was taken out to dinner daily and realized what a gift of a community resided in this place of the Ordinariate home parish. The liturgies lived up to expectations and the choir soothed Antonio's nerves. He was on a sort of retreat. Besides, the missionary priest, like St. Paul knew both how to be brought low, and I know how to abound: (everywhere, and in all things I am instructed) both to be full, and to be hungry; both to abound, and to suffer need. This was a brief time of abundance and how Antonio wished he could share this with his new flock in the Chinese territories. When his time of r and r ended, the Archbishop sent him a note indicating that two soldiers of the Republic would escort him deep into enemy territory, and leave him there. He would meet another priest who had been working in the San Tan Mountain Regional Park. Antonio and the two Texas Rangers would travel dressed like "bums", except for the soldiers sophisticated weapons and night vision goggles. Antonio was given a flak jacket.
One thing which Antonio read in the letter surprised him. One of his goals was to find a small community of Benedictine nuns who had escaped the purges of the monasteries and be their chaplain, adding an interesting ministry to his missionary work. One of the letters, all now in Antonio's pocket, was from a Sister Methodius, the Mother General of a group of eleven nuns who had managed to get out of Oklahoma before both the nuclear blast and the Chinese invasion. They initially were accompanied by a Benedictine monk who had since died. Antonio hoped sincerely that he would find them. The Rangers would take him to the edge of the Park and leave him there. He was as ready as he ever would be. The idea of finding a group of contemplative nuns in the middle of nowhere did seem like a stretch of the Nuncio's imagination, but the letter from the Mother General was one of four in his inner pocket.
The route, by necessity, was across open land in places, but the Rangers took Antonio farther south than he would have gone, approaching the desert park from the south. Traveling at night and resting briefly in the day was not a new experience for Antonio. It only took ten days to cross over from the tower at Las Cruces to the desert park. Once a thriving tourist area for hikers and bikers, this mountain area and scrub land were largely deserted. The Ranger knew of Chinese army installations on the north side, which is why they came in from the south.
"To be honest," said Ranger Smith, I cannot imagine anyone living out here for long."
The three were standing at the edge of a small scrubby bunch of unidentified bushes on the north side of the Malpais Hills. Antonio was being given instructions on how to get across the trails, some of which were partly in washes, up to the edge of the Goldmine Mountains. The letter, dated six months ago, indicated the nuns had a cave, or some type of shelter. Antonio felt a bit like Frodo going into Mordor without Sam. The priest he was to meet had indicated he would be at the pond and windmill area, close to the entrance of the park on the east side. That was too close for comfort in the minds of the Rangers for Antonio to go, as the other side of the road up by the entrance was dotted with housing developments. The Chinese used Thompson Road. However, Antonio had no choice but to continue to this rendezvous, set up by the priest and communicated to the Nuncio two months ago. The date was a full-twenty-four hours hence, so Antonio had plenty of time to cross the terrain. The Rangers had been instructed to give Antonio supplies for one day, maps of the trails, maps of the mountain area, a gun, and a knapsack of other survival essentials. In addition, he had his Mass kit-the only identification that he was a priest. The idea that three men would be more obvious than one created the orders that these two Rangers had to turn back at this point.
They knelt on the rocky ground and asked for Antonio's blessing. He had two St. Michael medals which he gave to both men. Then, Antonio turned and faced his walk. He, too, had doubts about finding a lean-to or cave monastery of Benedictines, or even the lone priest. For some odd reason, Antonio was overwhelmed with love and home sickness for his dead mother. Perhaps, he thought, she was watching over him in this extraordinary walk into the unknown. Quickly, he sent a prayer to her, and to his Most Blessed Mother Mary, and stepped onto the trail just north of Rock Peak.
To be continued....