In a state in Mexico, the Catholic Church has been outlawed and the priests driven underground on threat of being executed. After several months, the governor’s office announces that one priest is still moving from village to village carrying on the work of the Church by administering the sacraments and saying Mass. A young lieutenant of police, an ardent revolutionist and an anticlerical, persuades his chief to let him search for the priest, who, as the authorities see it, is guilty of treason.
Two photographs are pasted up together in the police station. One is the picture of a fugitive American bank robber who has killed several police officers in Texas; the other is that of the priest. No one notices the irony, least of all the young lieutenant, who is far more interested in arresting the clergyman. At the same time that the officer is receiving permission to make a search for the priest, the priest is in the village; he has come there to get aboard a boat that will take him to the city of Vera Cruz and to safety.
Before the priest can board the boat, word comes to him that an Indian woman is dying several miles inland. True to his calling, the priest mounts a mule and sets out to administer the last rites to the dying woman, although he realizes that he might not find another ship to carry him to safety. There is one other priest in the vicinity, Father José. Father José, however, had been cowardly enough to renounce the Church, even to the point of taking a wife, a shrewish old woman. The authorities pay no attention to him at all, for they think, in Father José’s case correctly, that a priest who has renounced his vows is a detriment and a shame to the Church.
After completing his mission, the priest returns to the coast, where he spends the night in a banana warehouse. The English manager on the plantation allows him to hide there. The following day, he sets out on muleback for the interior, hoping to find refuge from the police and from the revolutionary party of Red Shirts. As he travels, he thinks of his own past and of himself as a poor example of the priesthood. The priest is a whiskey priest, a cleric who would do almost anything for a drink of spirits. In addition, he has in a moment of weakness fathered a child by a woman in an inland village. Although he considers himself a weak man and a poor priest, he is still determined to carry on the work of the Church as long as he can, not because he wants to be a martyr but because he knows nothing else to do.
After twelve hours of travel, he reaches the village where his onetime mistress and his child live. The woman takes him in overnight, and the following morning he says a Mass for the villagers. Before he can escape, the police enter the village. Marcía claims him as her husband, and his child, a girl seven years old, names him as her father. In that manner, because of his...
(The entire section is 1182 words.)