Porco Dio (or The Two Callings of Pietro Amorth)

My name is Pietro Amorth. I consider myself a fortunate man, compared to so many people living without a purpose, who feel lost. I discovered my first calling at the age of ten, after I tripped up and smashed my forehead against a damned sharp stone while playing soccer. I’d never really played well. I had only two friends. And the reason why I they liked me was simple, they coveted my soccer ball. Before passing out at the day of the accident, I heard a voice. I could not discern it, but I won’t forget those words, “He is doomed." 

The doctor, my father’s eldest brother, did not spare my mamma at all: “He is in a coma. He may remain like this for years to come.” 

“Are there any chance of his coming out of it in a couple of days?” she asked.

“He suffered a severe trauma, which can result in long-term complications,” my uncle explained. “We’d better left him in God’s hands so that he may rest in peace. If nothing else, you won’t be alone. You have other children to worry about,” he remarked.

But like a good mamma, there’s not a hope in hell she would give up one of her offspring. At least not before putting up a fight with God and with the whole world. And that was exactly what she did in the following days, knelt down beside my hospital bed ‘begging for a miracle’, as she herself put it. Perhaps, that ditch was merely something that crossed my path. Or maybe I was predestined to trip and smash my head – I don’t care much for the term predestined, but I’ll have to concede it to the Protestants. Be that as it may, as I gained experience, I started to see that accident as an inevitable encounter. 

“Don’t be afraid, son," a voice woke me up. 

“Who’s speaking to me?” I asked. 

“I’m your best friend. I’ll always be with you," the stranger replied with a more familiar voice than that of my soccer buddies; in a more soothing voice than that of my mother beside my bed. In a blink of an eye, he approached me holding a candle on his right hand. He had long hair, dark skin, a beard, a mustache, an aquiline nose, and featured a comforting smile. Hands down, any given Italian boy would recognize him. I bet that almost every person in the world would. He was the man hung to the cross at the churches. 

“Jesus!” I exclaimed.  

“Many call my name. Very few follow me," he answered, blowing the candle. 

This time around, I did not fell into darkness. I woke up in the room, and caught my mother lying beside my bed. Her usually coiffed hair now looked like a sloppy bird’s nest. She had bulging dark spots under her naturally bright eyes, and her soft skin was wrinkled, filled with creases like I’d never noticed before.

“Son! You’re awake!” she shouted, rushing to hug me. 

I turned my face to avoid her putrid breath. But I could not escape her sour smell and sweating. 

“What happened, mom?” I asked, noticing her crying, her tears building on the clear fluid down her nose. 

“Everything is... is fine, son," she managed to assure me, after a couple of seconds that seemed like minutes. 

“I saw Jesus, mom. He called me. I’m going to become a priest,” I told her with a bright smile. 

I’m a fortunate man, compared to so many people without a purpose, who feel lost. I discovered my first calling at the age of ten, and the first person to learn that was my mamma. I was so excited that I nearly missed her first reaction. Many years later, in an effort to recall that moment, my memories arrive in a series of flashes: a smile of relief, her wide eyes, her hunched back, sitting at the edge of the bed. And her muttering words: “porco Dio." Italians are one of the deepest religious people in the world. We’re favored by our geographic position. The Eternal City sits here. Millions of martyrs have fed our land – and our Faith – with their own blood. The most precious relics are spread throughout our churches. And, above all, Christ’s representative has chosen to live among us. Nevertheless, whenever we get mad, outraged or surprised, we let slip this despicable profanity: “porco Dio," that is, ‘pig God’. Sometimes, we may also offend the Blessed Mother herself, by saying: “porca Madonna." Even though this may be part of our cultural background, I assume that we’ll pay a high price at the purgatory for every single time we called God or Our Lady a pig. Mia mamma must have paid for this little sin – this and the previous – with the countless hours she spent kneeling down by my bed begging for a miracle. That was the last time I heard her say “porco Dio." The series of flashes of that occasion ended with Mrs. Amorth locking herself in the bathroom. 

After a few minutes, my mamma reappeared, with neatly combed hair and brushed teeth. She was wearing her regular perfume. I will never forget its unmistakable aroma and its flask, a sinister female torso, without limbs nor head. Even though I hold no interest for perfumes or for fashion, its brand stuck in my mind: Schiaparelli. A couple of months after my return from a near-death experience, I learned the story of the famous Italian stylist, who had been forced to join a convent. She only managed to escape the struggles of the religious life by resorting to a hunger strike.

“She wasn’t lucky like you. She did not find Jesus,” his mamma mentioned. Back in my days, mothers used to promise their youngest kid to the church. They felt proud when their offspring finished the seminary and were assigned to a parish church. I guess my mom wasn’t one of those. Before my ‘accident’, she used to say that I’d follow my uncle’s steps. I’d become a doctor. A cardiologist.

 “What is that, mom?” I asked intrigued at hearing that big word for the first time.

“You’ll take care of other people’s heart,” she answered proudly.

But then, she must have changed her mind when I was knocked unconscious. She promised her youngest to God right there, so that He would perform a miracle. Sometimes I think that the ‘porco dio’ she let slip when I opened my eyes was a mix of relief and fright. She’s given her son back. Therefore she should pay for it. The black dresses she started wearing every single day were a testimony to that. “I guess that’s part of her promise,” my father confided once. Mamma ended her pilgrimage through that “valley of tears” the year I entered the seminary. And she took the secret of her promise with her to the grave. People say that a mother’s heart is always right. And hers wasn’t wrong when she pointed out my calling, the first one. At the very second I was ordained priest, I swear I smelled her perfume and listened her words in a whisper: “You’re going to take care of other people’s heart, Pietro.” 

I considered myself a fortunate priest, compared to so many others with no purpose, who feel lost. Almost all of those belonging to my generation – from the previous and the following decades – regarded the devil as a mere allegory. His actual existence as an individual was debunked by teachers and asserted by the most brilliant students. That was but a fable. Such stories – typically of the childhood, in the countryside of Turin – were concocted by uneducated, humble people. And who cares about exorcisms and Jesus Christ’s teachings. Who cares about the catholic doctrine? Who cares about catechism? Believing in the devil was as serious as defending Adam and Eve, and criticizing Charles Darwin. And, of course, no one was willing to shout loud and clear, porco Darwin! 

At the seminary, there was only one person going against the current. We’re actually in the same group. Whenever someone mocked the “medieval faith," he mumbled in his Calabrese accent, “The biggest ruse of the devil is to make us believe that he doesn’t exist.” The sentence taken from a Baudelaire’s book – and adapted – has become a motto for people like that fellow with a catchy name, Giobbe. He was a clumsy, tall, mince guy. He had a prominent nose and large ears. Some would say he had entered seminary because no woman would ever marry him. Others thought that he was there over his parents’ wish. The meanest suggested that he was not able to come out as gay. In no time there were rumors of a forbidden romance between Giobbe and the Scatology teacher– a man so old that he must have been friends with Methuselah. A man allegedly considered Rome’s most famous exorcist. In other words, he was not worthy of the attention of decent and dedicated students. Except for those like Giobbe that showed a simple-minded curiosity. Giobbe was a melancholic recluse. He’d never engaged in study groups, nor joined his fellows to play soccer or drink wine. He also never showed up for our final celebration. He disappeared right after the ordination. 

You must be asking why that is guy connected to my second calling. I’d only discover it ten years later, at a sunny afternoon. I was in Rome for a meeting with my spiritual advisor, who had recently become a Cardinal, a senior ecclesiastical leader. I had a suspicion that I might be sent to an African country to work as a missionary. Right before entering his office, I was told that His Holiness was summoning him with urgency. So I decided to profit from my spare time enjoying the best coffee in the word, the Sant’Estachio. It was half past two when I leaned against the counter. While having my last sip, I felt like I was being watched. When I turned my face, I caught sight of my most awkward seminary colleague. 

“Giobbe,” I approached him fortuitously. I wasn’t expecting anything more than a casual hello. But what took place there, by that counter, would change my life forever. 

“Good afternoon, Pietro. You know what, you’ve been wrong all along,” he claimed, staring at me with his dark deep eyes filled with resentment. 

“About what?”

“About the devil. He exists.” 

“He’s an allegory...” I added. 

“No, I mean as an individual and an actual being. Doctor Molinari...” – that was the Scatology teacher’s name –, “...he managed to evict him from me; but he’s back inside,” Giobbe told me, forcing a plastic smile. His eyes rotated in their orbits. All of the sudden, that was no longer him in front of me. My body trembled from head to toe. As strange as it may sound I sensed that I had already crossed that terrifying presence’s path before… I wanted to run away from there. But, it seemed like I was being held captive by some invisible hands grabbing my ankles. 

“We’ve met before, Pietro. You were so young, so innocent,” said the sharp guttural voice unlike Giobbe’s. 

“Why can’t I remember?” 

“Cause the time hasn’t come." 

“Who… Who are you?” 

“Why the rush, Pietro? We’ll meet many more times,” he frowned slightly leaning towards me, with his lips parted, revealing his putrid breath and his sour odor. Something was pulling me back to the past.

“You’re a liar. And a father of it, ” Christ’s accusation in Saint John’s Gospel was the first thing that came to me, together with a line we used to mock at the seminary, “And the lie itself.”

“For the most of the time, telling the truth is more convenient,” he remarked, backing away a little, enough to give me a break of his sickening stench.   

“What do you want from me? What?” 

“It isn’t just Him who listens our prayers,” he answered, pointing upwards with his index finger.  His finger was quite thin. Thin and unusually long. It seemed to me, that he had touched the ceiling, and then continued, “I was also there. I know what secret your mamma took to the grave. Porco dio.” 

I felt my heart going up my throat, when he said that. I was about to punch that huge nose, when I noticed the tears rolling down Giobbe’s eyes. 

“I thought that was over…” he mumbled, his lips trembling. Apparently, the devil had given him yet another break. “Forgive me,” he begged, avoiding my eyes. 

Then he turned his back and left, under the torrential rain. Yes, thanks to some strange weather phenomena, the sun lost its shine that afternoon. The sky was filled with dark clouds. And the city streets were flooded by a massive thunderstorm. 

“A double espresso, please,” I asked the barista. That was the most enjoyable way to wait for the rain to stop. 

I found Jesus at the age of ten. And I became a priest. As ironic as it may seem, the devil revealed my second call: exorcism. I would experience the pleasure of evicting him off his victims and sending him back to hell over and over again. No one messes up with my mamma and escapes unharmed.

F.T. FARAH is a journalist and author who has published children’s, young adults’ and adults’ books. 

Currently, he is the first secretary of a Brazilian authors’ association called União Brasileira de Escritores (UBE). 

F.T. Farah's book A Outra Face de Deus [The Other Face of God] is the first volume of a trilogy called Apocalipse Negro [Black Apocalypse.] 

His work was acclaimed by the local press and his style was identified as a mix of Dan Brown and Stephen King, with sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 

Father Pietro Amorth is the protagonist of F.T. Farah's trilogy.

Translated by