The story so far:
Pope Simon II was installed after much controversy. After the conservative reigns of John Paul II and Benedict IX, many in the Catholic Church throughout the world were pleased that the new Pope promised to depart from some of the traditions that had plagued local catholic parishes everywhere for centuries. Priests were going to be able to marry. Women would share the priesthood equally with men. Birth control will finally be able to crawl out from hiding from the church leadership. The cloak of secrecy surrounding much of what happens in the Vatican will be removed. The conservatives in the Church were most worried about the Pope’s undisclosed position on homosexuality, but there was plenty to complain about for the present. It was total chaos for months. Miguel Hernandez had been a well-known Cardinal, presiding over the Peru dioceses for years. Rome formally resisted his advance, but many outside Vatican City had worked hard to promote him, and he was very popular world-wide among members of congregations. He had his supporters in Rome as well, and somehow, he managed to earn the post. Hernandez was quite prominent due to his humanitarian efforts that rivaled those of Mother Theresa. But he was just as well known for his controversial positions that sounded more like Martin Luther or John Calvin than like any leader in the Catholic Church. Also, some of the top brass in Rome were very vocal against Miguel’s use of the media to promote “the gospel.” They complained that his use of the television and the internet to reach the entire Hispanic world was wrong and they mocked him by calling him “Pat Robertsonandez.” But his close friends called him “The Rock” to refer affectionately to his affinity to the Apostle Simon Peter. It was no surprise that upon his installation as Pope, Hernandez quickly took the name Pope Simon II. He issued a press release explaining that the Apostle Peter was the first Pope, the founding father of the Church Universal, and he called upon all members of “the body of Christ” to unify for the furtherance of The Great Commission. It was surreal, Catholics and protestants worldwide were glued to their television sets, staring at their computer screens, stopping their cars in traffic to listen to the details on the radio, and almost no one had anything to say. Shocked and confused, Christians worldwide just stared at each other and the rest of the world moved on without another thought as if it never happened.
Others already started making their preparations to bring his reign to a swift conclusion.
One of Pope Simon’s first official acts was to open every part of Vatican City to the general public. Security was still tight, but tours of every part of “The New Jerusalem” ran daily. Previously unavailable documents, volumes of records, libraries full of very old books, one-of-a-kind ancient Christian artifacts, priceless religious art, and the like were now accessible to historians, researchers, the press, and faithful pilgrims from every corner of the world. These were exciting times! But there was more. Even the Pope didn’t know everything that had been hidden over the past two thousand years within the 1.4 square miles of Vatican City. Secret societies within the Church had kept so many things hidden that much of the leadership never knew even half of the secrets, nor did any of them try to learn them. It was part of the tradition of the Church for centuries. When the Pope first heard of the possibility of a secret chamber deep beneath the center of the Vatican that contained one of the most important ancient artifacts of all time to Christendom, he immediately sent a secure email to an old friend. This is what it read:J - Miguel here. It appears we have been holding onto an item of particular interest to many. I desperately need to find its location, which I have been told is deep underneath our city. I believe you may know how to find it. Please make plans to come here and search for it. I need your help! SP -
When Joshua received the email, he had immediately gathered his group of students together along with another professor, Paul Overland, PhD, PhD (he always insisted that his double PhD “titles” were used at all times), and told them they had some research to do. He didn’t disclose any details, he just gave them each specific instructions regarding information he needed each of them to find. No one knew anything about the mission itself, the planned trip to Rome, or that The Pope himself had requested their help! Bear was quite pleased that “Duh” Overland had left the country though, even though just temporarily. Joshua had sent him ahead of the team. Bear had been telling his friends that he’d had his fill of Mr. Double PhD over the past three years and he thought the guy had as much common sense as a doorknob. “Have a safe trip.” Bear had said to him as he was leaving for Portland’s international airport by rental car, and then under his breath, “Not.” Sarah had scolded her friend appropriately, but more for using the lame “not” than for conveying his feelings, which she shared.
While Professor Overland had gone ahead of the group to research at the Vatican’s library, Joshua put the group of graduate students to work putting pieces of his puzzle together. The students each used the internet to gather the information required of them. Their tasks were each very challenging in and of themselves, but every piece had to be found in order for Joshua to determine the exact location of the secret chamber. At Joshua’s suggestion, Sarah had traveled to Washington, D.C. and spent a month in the Library of Congress from opening to close every day. Each of Joshua’s requests was fulfilled by the expert researchers, and the pieces started to fall in place.