If you have never read any of the Don Camillo stories then you are the poorer for it.
The Catholic priest with hands like joints of ham and a short fuse temper has the characteristics of so many of us. He also has close and intimate conversations with the crucified Christ in his church and a long running battle with communism and, in particular, the red mayor, known as Peppone.
Here is an extract from 'The Little World of Don Camillo'
"Christmas was approaching and it was high time to get the figures of the Crib out of their drawer so that they might be cleaned, touched up here and there and any stains carefully removed.
It was already late, but Don Camillo was still at work in the presbytery. He heard a knocking on the window and on seeing that it was Peppone went to open the door.
Peppone sat down while Don Camillo resumed his work and neither of them spoke for quite a long time.
'Hell and Damnation!' exclaimed Peppone suddenly and furiously.
'Couldn't you find a better place to blaspheme in than my presbytery?' inquired Don Camillo quietly.
'Couldn't you have got it off your chest at your own headquarters?'
"One can't even swear there any longer," muttered Peppone. "Because if one does someone asks for an explanation."
Don Camillo applied a little white lead to St Joseph's beard.
"No decent man can live in this filthy world!" exclaimed Peppone after a pause.
"How does that concern you?" inquired Don Camillo. "Have you by any chance become a decent man?"
"I've never been anything else."
"There now! And I should never have thought it." Don Camillo continued his retouching of St Joseph's beard. Then he began to tidy up the saint's clothing.
"How long will you be over that job?" asked Peppone angrily.
"If you were to give me a hand it would soon be done."
Peppone was a mechanic and he possessed hands as big as shovels and enormous fingers that gave no impression of clumsiness. Nevertheless, when anybody wanted a watch repaired, they never failed to take it to Peppone.
Because it is a fact that that it is precisely such bulky men that are best adapted to the handling of minute things.
Peppone could streamline the body of a car or the spokes of a wheel like a master painter.
"Are you crazy! Can you see me touching up saints?" he muttered. "You haven't by any chance mistaken me for a sacristan?"
Don Camillo fished in the bottom of the open drawer and brought forth a pink and white object about the size of a sparrow; it was, in fact, the Holy Infant Himself.
Peppone hardly knew how he came to find it in his hands, but he took up a little brush and began working carefully. He and Don Camillo sat on either side of the table, unable to see each other's faces because of the light of the lamp between them.
"It's a beastly world," said Peppone. "If you have something to say you daren't trust anyone. I don't even trust myself."
Don Camillo appeared to be absorbed in his task: the Madonna's whole face needed repainting.
"Do you trust me?" he asked casually.
"I don't know."
"Try telling me something and then you will know."
Peppone completed the repainting of the Baby's eyes, which were the most difficult part. Then he touched up the red of the tiny lips.
"I should like to give it all up," said Peppone, "but it can't be done."
"What prevents you?"
"Prevents me? With an iron bar in my hand I could stand up to a regiment!"
"Are you afraid?"
"I've never been afraid in my life!"
"I have, Peppone. Sometimes I am frightened."
Peppone dipped his brush in the paint. "Well, so am I, sometimes" he said, and his voice was almost inaudible.
Don Camillo sighed. "The bullet was within four inches of my forehead," said Don Camillo. "If I hadn't drawn my head back at that exact moment I should have been done for. It was a miracle."
Peppone had completed the Baby's face and was now working with pink paint on His body.
"I'm sorry I missed," he mumbled, "but I was too far off and the cherry trees were in the way."
Don Camillo's brush ceased to move....................
..........Peppone sighed and continued his painting.
"There is something wrong," he said suddenly. "They all look at me with different eyes now. All of them, even Brusco."
"And Brusco is thinking the same as you are, and so are the rest of them," replied Don Camillo. "Each of them is afraid of the others and every time any one of them speaks he feels as if he must defend himself."
"Shall we leave the politics out of it Peppone?"
Peppone sighed again. "I feel as if I were in gaol," he said gloomily.
"There is always a way out of gaol in this world," replied Don Camillo. "Gaols only confine the body, and the body matters so little."
The Baby was now finished and it seemed as if His clear, bright colouring shone in Peppone's huge dark hands. Peppone looked at Him and he seemed to feel in his palms the living warmth of that little body.
He forgot all about being in gaol.
He laid the Baby delicately upon the table and Don Camillo placed the Madonna near Him.
"My son is learning a poem for Christmas," Peppone announced proudly. "Every evening I hear his mother teaching it to him before he goes to sleep.
He's a wonder!"
"I know" agreed Don Camillo. "Look how beautifully he recited the poem for the bishop!"
Peppone stiffened. "That was one of the most rascally things you ever did!" he exclaimed. "I shall get even with you yet."
"There is plenty of time for getting even, or for dying," Don Camillo replied.
Then he took the figure of the ass and set it down close to the Madonna as she bent over her Child.
"That is Peppone's son, and that is Peppone's wife, and this one is Peppone," said Don Camillo laying his finger on the figure of the ass.
"And this one is Don Camillo!" exclaimed Peppone, seizing the figure of the ox and adding it to the group.
"Oh well! Animals always understand one another," said don amillo.
And though Peppone said nothing he was now perfectly happy, because he still felt in the palm of his hand the living warmth of the pink Baby; and for a time the two men sat in the dim light looking at the little group of figures on the table and listening to the silence that has settled over the Little World of Don Camillo, and that silence no longer seemed ominous but instead full of peace."
A very Holy and Happy Christmas
Feast to all!