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The injured little red Cardinal rested in the palm of young Gabriela’s hand, as she made her way to church that morning.  She had found the bird under a tree, unable to fly due to what appeared to be a wing injury.  Birds represent freedom, she thought, the freedom to take flight and flutter among the tree branches seeking food, building nests, and finding shelter from winged predators. What could have caused the injury to this beautiful little winged creature?  Gabriela understood that without the possibility of flight the beautiful injured little bird would be in danger of ground predators.  As she made her way to church, it occurred to her that the house of God would be a very safe place for the little red Cardenal.  The picturesque neo-gothic structure of Saint Balthasar’s Church would provide the perfect dwelling and a place of refuge.  She felt good that she was helping the wounded bird and trusted in her decision to take it to church.  It was a beautiful Spring morning, made even more beautiful by her act of charity.

As she approached the large wooden church doorway, she could see Father Benevolencio standing at the entrance, waiting there as he usually did right before the start of the processional hymn before the start of the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.  Father Benevolencio welcomed the faithful as they arrived at church, and when Gabriela entered his field of vision, wounded red Cardinal in hand, he motioned “stop” to her, and said: I’m sorry Gabriela but you cannot bring that bird in here.  Gabriela was stunned, and thought to herself, isn’t this the church that offered animal blessings on Saint Francis Day? How could a wounded bird be unwelcomed?   The words coming out of the priest’s mouth left her dumbfounded and bewildered. Father Benevolencio, noticing the look of dismay on her face, and being the softie that he was, surrendered to her wish. He was disarmed by the look of sadness on her face and motioned her to come in with the little red Cardinal.   Gabriela was relieved.

As Gabriela found her way into the church, feeling joy in her heart, suddenly out of nowhere a large bird attacked the little red Cardinal.  It was a nasty brown-grey bird that had been nesting in the church undetected, a territorial bird with a horrid squawk.  Before Gabriela could do anything to protect the tiny little bird in the palm of her hand, the squawking bird had swiftly descended.  Despite the brief commotion, the fat old bird returned to its nest, high up on the interior beams, and worship continued as usual.  

Gabriela, after a moment of shock, lifted the lifeless little red Cardinal from the stone floor of the church, and exited the building.  Devastated, she walked aimlessly for a while and came upon a nearby park.  She laid the little red Cardinal on the ground.  She had no tools for digging a hole for burial, so she gathered stones to place solemnly over the tiny red corpse.  In the trees surrounding her, suddenly a chorus of Finches, Sparrows, Robins, Cardinals, and other birds began to sing high above in the open green space while she watched on.  This brought a warmth to her heart, and she thought to herself “church.”  

When she looked back down at the Cardinal, to her amazement, she thought she saw movement.  She couldn’t believe her eyes. Gabriela reached for the stones she’d only a few moments ago placed on the bird, and, to her delight, it climbed into her hand.  She lifted the bird to her eye level, and for a nanosecond that seemed an eternity, she made eye contact with the little creature. There, in the bird’s eyes she could see luminous life. Then, in an instant, it took off in flight.  She marveled as it disappeared among the trees. The song of birds reached a crescendo penetrating the deepest chambers of Gabriela’s heart.  Peace, as she had never experienced it, followed, as she made her way home. 

© Wilfredo Benitez, March 2022

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