You’d be on solid ground to ask, as I have many times since myself ; what sort of adults would turn their children over to the care of a bunch of lunatics? For that is what those “inmates of Christ” were..contemplate the situation for a moment..: You have a cloister of healthy women, all who have sworn to maintain a chaste, childless life in the service of an “unknown”..You have a likewise mob of males, all once and perhaps still testosterone driven to submit their desires to the will of their God..yet..yet we know..we know only too well that under those cowls, under those habits there beat the heart and temperament of a human being, with all the wanton vices and desires of the human body.
Along with the ‘call to serve the Lord’, was a certain resentment in how they were expected to serve..how it could sometimes seem as all give and no receive on the earthly side of things..and here they were left in charge of herding and corralling all these offspring of lascivious copulation..all these screaming, demanding sprays of semen and ovulation flowing over the school-yard and into the classrooms…and here they were having to wipe the bottoms and the noses of the little grommets..all day , every day till the parents…those incorrigible sinners and fuckers, those “Sunday Saints” came to collect their moments of flailing desire and nocturnal fornications…these running, jumping, yelling , one singular spermatozoon success story amongst volumes of body-fluids and menstrual waste…But not for the holy “Sister” or “Brother” or “Father”..not for those incestuously suggestive relations of God the rhythmic caress of deep sexual contact..to see but never to touch, to feel the desire but never to consummate..nothing save furtive self-fondling in the dark silence of their cell, all resulting evidence flushed down to the septic tank or burned in the lighting-up of the morning cooking fire in the communal kitchen, a sigh of both release and simultaneous regret at both “getting away with something shameful” and in quick succession the knowledge of getting away with nothing at all., for here they still were and here they will stay..and the hunger never go away.
“Please, Jesus, please Jesus, please Jesus!..drive out this sin of lust from my body…mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa…”.
The body of Christ amen.
But He doesn’t , He never can…for how can one but believe, if one does believe, in one’s heart of hearts, that it was He; that creator , that omnipotent God , who put it there! And could the question just as easy be put; If the sin of lust could result in the creation of bastard life in the human body…what was the Sin of God that caused Him to create such bastard life in the celestial body : Earth?
Such theological questions were beyond the imagination of the small cluster of children herded to pray and genuflect before the Stations of the Cross during their weekly prayer lessons in the big church out the back of the school. Indeed, such questions were not even considered by the parents of Christopher as they signed their children over to the care and education of such a bunch of crazed lunatics that inhabited that five acres of ecclesiastical asylum near the railway station.
The one question, the imperative answer to which sealed the decision of a young Rosaline to marry a man twenty years older than herself, was one she put to the old German herder whilst waiting to board the station ferry to cross the Murray River. She had been “engaged” to Enrico Corridini for nearly a year , while she still worked at the big station on the Murray River..Enrico and Rosaline met every few days when he would come to the river to collect a truck-load of water for the wood-cutting camp where he worked and lived during the war years. Enrico had “popped the question” a while back and while she had cautiously consented, she had yet to make her final decision.
Rosaline Thomas grew up by the river. She worked as a house-maid at both Punyelroo and Portee stations near Swan Reach and Blanchetown. Many times she was called to accompany the lady of the house to cross the river on a flat-topped ferry, used for ferrying supplies across the river there at the station. She told of an old German hand there at Portee who, whenever he had to cross the river, would pick up a small stone, a pebble, carry it across the river and place it on the other side..Rosaline asked him why he did it…he was at first reluctant to tell her..but she persisted..
“Well, girlie..it is my own little thing…I think of the small stone as my soul,…you see, I cannot swim..and so I take the stone, carry it, and if or when I reach safely the solid ground on the other side, I leave it dzair….when I come back, I do the same”
“What would happen if the ferry starts to sink?” Rosaline asked.
“Dzen I will try to throw it with all my might, to the other side….and I think if it reaches there , then I feel I too will reach there…”
“And if it doesn’t?”
“Dzen, I think I vill be lost in the waters of the river…”
It was the thought, the visual imagination of that thrown pebble, desperate, hopeless and valueless, falling into the waters of the river and a life lost as a consequence of that one little pebble…
What was her life to be ? Would it be lost in a desperate gamble with a married life on the edge of the river…a dirt farmer’s wife in the ‘heartbreak country’ of the mallee? Uneducated, in poverty, her family property-less and impoverished…
She was decided.
Christopher Corridini stood as instructed before the first small icon of the Stations of the Cross The pictures were at some height above his tiny frame, he craned his neck to see it. Sister Mary Joseph placed one arm around his slender child body and in a secretive whisper described the goings on in the painting..she did this to each child in turn , from one station stop to the next, with each station becoming more and more intense with the humiliation and torment of The Christ, her voice too grew in intensity and anger..
‘Look!” she’d say, “look how they laugh and mock our Lord Jesus……..” and the children’s eyes all wide and staring at the horror of the gore and blood on the crown of thorns and the leering faces of the torturers. The children’s hands clasping and wringing in fear and horror…several of the little girls clung to the habit of the squatting sister as she related the means of cruelty inflicted on the body of the Son of God as “He suffered for our sins here on Earth…He suffered for us..” her eyes alight also with the self-inflicted emotional pain of the scenes she described.
The young nun then proceeded to instruct the small group of children in the ritual of the journey through The Stations of the Cross..she would say the Leaders chant :
“We adore thee O Christ, and bless thee.”
Then she would ask the children to repeat after her..:
“By your holy cross Thou has redeemed the world”.
Then she would gather the little cluster of children around her and softly tell them a little maxim of life ; “As a child, we sometimes feel alone..sometimes others do not stand up for me when I am picked on and afraid..so help me Jesus to be strong and protect me in thy light”.
The chant was repeated at every Station, along with the repeated response and then another little homily on the lessons of life through the eyes of reverence for Jesus. “ As a child, I sometimes repeat stories that are unclean and disrespectful..Help me to keep myself pure and clean…” All while standing before another frame of the torment or torture of Our Lord Jesus Christ. These lurid paintings left nothing to the imagination, from the first of the condemning to death before Pontius Pilate to the meeting of his mother and the women of Jerusalem on the road to crucifixion and the stripping away of his garments to the hammering in of the nails to his hands and feet and the sinking in of the spear into the side of his body…
These chants, prayers and visuals were displayed in graphic intensity to the ears and gaze of those five year old children, fresh from the comforts and protection of Mother , Father and the safety of home..To Christopher, they were a shocking assault on his quiet nature..He had never seen someone so deliberately hurt..He had never seen someone held down and tortured, He had never seen a person stripped, beaten, speared , gored and nailed to a wooden cross…Yet here was Sister Mary Joseph explaining it all with the soft, gentle, assured voice of a confident adult…it must be so.
But strangely, the terror didn’t bite into young Christopher. Those carefully designed pictures, those beguiling, persuasive homilies and all the Sister’s gently pitched whispers into his child ears were to be of no avail…for even as a child, Christopher was more of a “touching” child..he was more interested in the tactile nature of things..on the habit of Sister Joseph, he would touch to feel the heavy-starched white cloth parts of her cowl as she cooed , as with a lover’s breath, the corrupting words of indoctrination into his ear, wondering why it was so sharp…he would stand by her side and feel the heavy wooden beads of the Rosary belt that wrapped around her waist then dangled down the side of her habit-skirt..He would be mesmerized at the large, pendulating black cross that swung against her breast as she leant down to him. His was the world of touch, sights and sounds, the child’s world of wonder , when the wind told stories to his ears..alike to the animal kingdom.. windy days telling hurried stories of trees and hills, grasses and ferns, of white-capped ocean waves and gliding seagulls under drifts of wind-blown clouds scattered over azure skies. A child’s ears and innocence tuned to that elusive pitch and timbre that becomes dulled and destroyed by adulthood and those wailing whispers on the wind are seldom heard again.
What is lost in the eyes of the child, when such macabre icons are drawn to their gaze..The innocence that must be destroyed so guilt can be created, hatred infused before a depraved love constructed, fear before security, doubt in place of certainty, death before life. What is religion that would need to do such to a child..for it is surely children to which all it’s cunning indoctrination are delivered…as the adult convert must be a relatively low number in proportion, so it is the child that must be coaxed out of it’s dreamy cocoon into the adult world of conditioned certainty..where “trigger words” or scenarios are imbedded into the vernacular to be drawn upon when needed by civic state or religion..for they do work fist in glove in collusion with each other..how else could it be explained or excused, for what were these series of cameos of horror and degradation but in reality a kind of ecclesiastical pornography pushed into the subliminal thoughts of the children’s minds, a “sleeper” awaiting the right moment to respond.
After the last Station was reflected upon, the last homily spoke, the last humiliation imbedded into their child minds..the children were lined up and marched back single-file to the classroom near the row of huge old pine trees..Christopher looked at the radiating branches ascending high up into the depth of the foliage..
“ Wow! what a great place for a tree-house “ he was thinking.