An integral translation of a new papyrus of the Dead Sea where we read how Peter met the Lord on the road toward Cilicia (southern Anatolia, Turkey), and how he was questioned and admonished.
Peter walked slowly immersed in his thoughts, which in truth were not few, only occasionally throwing a fleeting glance at the quiet course of the waters which reflected the first dawn light of the day. He had distanced himself from his companions whilst everyone had been asleep and had he wandered away only with his problems through an unknown countryside following the course of the river to orient himself for his return.
It was the end of the night, when the birds had already been stirring in their nests and the nocturnal animals tiredly sought their shelters. Peter organised in his mind a thousand and one suppositions, alternating between weighty thoughts with curiosity, as an old fisherman, to know the fishiness of that waters that he followed in their course. Now the day was advancing on the flickering fading stars and in the evolving light of the early dawn Peter realised that someone was advancing towards him, he stopped reluctantly and lingered with his gaze fixed upon the one who approaching, he was seized by a sudden agitation and with a heart that seemed to want to escape out of his chest.
- «Quo Vadis Petrus?!».
- «Oh Lord! My Lord …»
Peter trembled and fumbled over his words, uncompleted words, and it was only when Christ put his hand upon Peter’s shoulder was he able to bring himself, at best, under control, but he was unable to take his eyes off the face of the Master in which Peter recognised the inconceivable sorrow and broken-heartedness he had witnessed at the last supper.
- «You did not answer me, Peter, I asked, where are you going!»
- “Lord, you know where, but if you really want me to hear it from my own mouth, I am going to Cilicia for an accord for those Christian communities that are not too popular with the government of that country… No! do not be sad, Lord, when the wind blows so precipitously it is the flexible rush that is saved, not the rigid oak».
- «So Peter, do you recommend that mountain dwellers now plant rushes on the ridges to curb the winds, instead of the unsafe oaks».
- «But during the great drought, the fawn was seen looking for water alongside the tiger …»
- «And after they had drunk side by side, who saved the fawn?»
- «You speak well, Lord, but you are well aware of the tremendous difficulties I have encountered in order to build your Church, and I run from Rome to Jerusalem and to the Indies, in all the places where our communities have come to life and flourish. Crowds run to me because I speak in your name, yet certain peoples have treacherous governments and it is up to me to meet them and find a consensus, a modus vivendi for your Church to endure, or set foot in and proclaim itself, and if I sometimes suffer their extortion and humiliate myself, it is always on behalf of your Church that I act».
- «And yet I told you: let your talk be, yes yes, NO NO, and whoever is not with me is against me, you can humiliate yourself, Peter, but do not humiliate the Church; and again I said to you: what is the use of man to acquires all the treasures upon the earth if he loses his soul? My Church is on the truth that you have to build it, not on compromise».
- «But if the opposing forces that hold us together destroyed your Church which is so weak now, who would save your word?».
- «Mine is not a word, Peter, that can be canceled by closing the mouth that pronounces it but rather, it will be like the flower that I struck spreading its pollen and multiplies the species, and then I told you that I will be with you until the end of the centuries and that the gates of Hell will not prevail against my Church».
- «Yes, oh Lord, everything seems easy when you are near at hand and your word is sufficient to give me fortitude, but when I am alone I tremble under the immense weight of the duty and charge which you have placed into my care. And when it seems that all has been lost and the brothers call for me to remain cautious and possibly ask me to try and reach a compromise? It is their love for your Church that makes them speak out, be convinced of it, since often they are fatigued of the struggle, so tired that more often than not, they doubt their strength».
- «They don’t doubt their strengths but their faith! You too Peter are often doubtful and besiege by the whispered concerns of your people that you tend to lose your sense of reality …».
- «Don’t look at me like that oh Lord… Whatever do you think of me?!».
- «I think about how you let yourself be taken for a fool … Your own secretary reads you adapted reports which you believe without making further inquiries, or he hides the heartfelt appeals of those who would like you to be a participant in so many shrouded afflictions, but your secretary, and not only him, have no desire to distress you with so many voices of pain and therefore create an atmosphere of tranquility around you even suppressing the roosters crow from the places you are going to visit …».
- «he suppresses roosters from crowing, why on earth?»
- «So that you do hot have to hear the rooster crow out three times!»
Peter was now listening in complete silence as he could no longer hold his Master’s gaze, he wanted to ask him a question in his turn but Christ looked at him so fixedly that he lacked the courage to say a word.
Christ read in his thoughts:
- «You want to know where I am going, you are curious to know from me and you are afraid when you already know the answer … Yes Peter, I will go before you to Cilicia! I will join the innocent persecuted and support those that are oppressed, I will give them the courage to resist the tortured. The prisons of Cilicia are full of Christians and I must be there because they may give in, they may lose all hope, and even feel betrayed, whilst you instead will be having a drink to the health of their tormentors at the conclusion of which, the agreement that will not liberate a single one from their torments but will give you the illusion of having saved that which could be saved. You see, Peter, even if it is a painful call that moved you, you cannot pay a tribute to Satan in order not to be disturbed, (and in my case the tribute is infamous …) You cannot be the sailor who leaves the ship with those he was able to collect but you have be the captain who does not leave it if not everyone is safe. You are satisfied when you see that the deck is empty, instead you should be going down into the hold, rummage through every corner».
Peter continued to be silent and felt the words of Christ like sharp thorns that tormented him, he was more than once on the point of throwing himself at the feet of the Master and invoking, with forgiveness, his strength but it seemed almost cowardly; he did not have the infinite piety of Christ but his own action had to rehabilitate him. It was true, there had been a certain relaxation between the brothers, and he himself, where was Cephas? («And I tell you that you are Peter, it is upon this rock I will build my church …»). It seemed to him that he was no longer a cornerstone but a brittle stone upon which the grass creeps and multiplies. He stood completely motionless for a while, almost without taking a breath, for a minute, for hours, who knows! Then his despair utterly overwhelmed him and it seemed to him that he had been grabbed quite strongly around the throat and suffocated until his eyes welled up with tears and he abandoned himself into total annihilation. He would have liked to scream out loudly, plead for mercy, now he felt no more scruples, keep no more pride in order to support himself; he only managed to bring up his right hand to his heart whilst his lips murmured:
- “Domine non sum dignum.”
When Peter regained consciousness of himself, he looked around for the Master and, not finding him, he ran to the bend in the road thinking that he had set off, but the road that was lost in the distance was empty and Peter retraced his steps and looked around again. The morning was already high and the swifts competed with each other in virtuosity over the mirrored water, with very high-pitched cries. Peter looked at everything with a bewildered eye and the images of the day were flaking away multiplied by tears: from a remote farmhouse a rooster crowed and Peter started, the rooster crowed three times and three times other roosters answered and still others and always three times until it seemed to Peter that all the roosters of the place crowed for him three times.
He tried with his hands to shield his ears but the hoarse song seemed to be born inside him, then he walked away almost running to return to him and free himself from that nightmare. The first part of the road he did it by running and listening only to the inner turmoil that didn’t seem to subside but then the trouble of his heart merged with that of the race and, ashamed, he slowed down his pace. He seemed to flee from the place where the master had stopped him as if from an enemy place, he imposed firmness and calm on all of himself and approaching the edge of the river still soaked by the nocturnal dew, he dipped his hands in the grass, withdrawing them soft and fragrant, and passing them over his face several times he raised himself in the person with a royal impetus, almost in defiance of his dismayed past, finding himself again: Cephas, the stone. Now he walked briskly but master of himself and lord of his own will. Still skirting the river, he met a fisherman, he stayed a while looking at him and with the thought of him he went back to his Galilee; for a moment he thought he was swaying in the gentle motion of his old boat. The smell of the salt penetrated his nostrils and he heard far away the voices of his companions who were withdrawing their nets: oh the sweetness of the mornings on the sea when the blue mists melt sky and water and it seems to live in a space without things. the past came back to be relived, and he, from the rushing full of memories, chose, to linger, the images with the clearest contours: the sight of the fish darting in the days of fruitful fishing, the often heated and interminable contracts with the merchants, or the his hut that every year had to be repaired at the time of the rains but so beautiful on summer nights when sleep was lulled by the buzz of crickets and gretole the vague light of fireflies gave the impression of sleeping next to the stars.
Almost without realising it he had approached the fisherman always with cherished images of his sea within his eyes, of the nets stretched out in the sun in his village square, almost oblivious of Cephas’s task he looked at the half-empty fisherman’s basket and asked:
- «Did you catch them?».
- «Ah! Few and of little value …».
- «For a river like this, instead of the scale, it would require a trammel net or perhaps even a dense mesh, which could lock in between those sediments something we need to take, No?»
- «Perhaps! Yet you speak like an expert, do you enjoy fishing?».
Peter did not answer, his thoughts of ever returning to the great nets and fish of his sea had abandoned him; saluting with a wave of his hand he walked away while the fisherman concluded his silent speech in a loud voice:
- «… A thankless chore fishing, the fish are too full to run toward my bait!».
Peter nodded his head as a hint of a smile creased his lips breaking that bitter fold of his:
- «If you believe that fishing is a thankless chore, whatever will become of me, A FISHER OF MEN?!».
In the meantime, his companions were waiting for him at the camp, ready to continue their journey and had become worried about his long absence.
The secretary, when he saw that Peter had arrive, approached him bringing both milk and cake, which Peter rebuffed with a nod (remembering and fully understanding, only now, the words that his Master had spoken to him once before in a similar situation: “It is better for me to have another kind of nourishment “) then, as everyone had gathered around him, he said fleetingly:
- «Make ready, we return to Rome!».
Filled with astonishment they looked at each other with a question hanging in the air, yet, when they turned toward Peter to ask him for an explanation, the cloaked apostle simply looked eagle eyed away from them so stonily that no one had dared to say a single thing, the sun had by now risen above the tree tops and illuminated Peter’s brow, the bronzed forehead of the old fisherman had taken on the majesty of a rock, an incorruptible rock because the Master had said:
- «TU ES PETRUS…»