Santa Maria Catholic Church was the oldest and smallest of those religious buildings in the entire city of Sunnydale, having been built right after the first Spanish settlers had moved into the region nearly three centuries ago. The local guidebook used by visiting tourists which listed various points of interest in the California town vaguely spoke about local Indian unrest during this period that had required the diminutive rectangular structure to be built out of the most massive stone blocks able to be hauled into position, with only the narrowest slits cut into the thick walls for light and air, which gave this little edifice the odd appearance of some kind of fort.

Actually, most of the native inhabitants had promptly died out when the encroaching Europeans introduced their diseases among those who totally lacked any kind of immunity to measles and other deadly infections. Shortly after this tragedy, the Spanish had speedily learned that other, much more unearthly denizens of the place they'd soon fearfully name the Boca del Infierno could only be defended against by spending the nighttime hours behind the strongest walls they could build.

However, over the decades that turned into generations, humans stubbornly stayed in the area, and they even managed to expand their little collection of buildings into an actual town, and then a city that grew into having many more churches besides the original, with these places built to serve the growing populace of the newly-renamed municipality of Sunnydale. During all of this, Santa Maria Church remained open, though by the present day of the last part of the 20th century, only a single priest was assigned to serve the dwindling congregation that could easily squeeze into the scant number of pews inside the cramped building that was truly showing its age.

Late one night, while pushing open the side door into the church from his living quarters, this elderly priest winced at the loud shriek of the rusted hinges complaining over being disturbed, but he still continued shuffling into the dimly lit church, which was illuminated only by a few weak electric lamps and the flickering votive candles in their far corner by the altar. Painfully leaning on both of his canes, the ancient man just a few years from becoming a centenarian was nearly bent double, so that he appeared to be closely examining the worn flagstones of the chapel floor during his struggling strides, as if this oldster had lost a quarter somewhere before the altar and he was hopefully searching for this stray coin.

Unfortunately, the priest had no choice but to totter along while in his ludicrous posture. A long, long time ago, he'd once been a big, strong man, with a straight back and fists the size of hams, but the years had triumphed over his body, withering away height and muscle, and twisting his spine and fingers so that he could only move with great difficulty on his now-necessary walking canes.

Still, whatever else had physically happened to himself, the man had retained most of his keen eyesight that had served him well in hunting trips to the Italian countryside decades ago. Not to mention back then, he'd also been a schoolteacher of the local children that their parents had sent to his church in his native land, with all of these youngsters during their religious education behaving just alike any other restless kids, getting into mischief whenever their instructor had turned his back to them. That had resulted in the priest unavoidably developing eyes in the back of his head, just as any good teacher quickly learns in order to control those little monsters. Plus also acquiring the envied ability to hurl with incredible speed and accuracy a stick of chalk straight at any misbehaving child's head, usually raising upon there an impressive goose egg-sized lump that was always admired later by the friends of the swaggering offender during their after-school games.

It all resulted tonight in the priest being quite aware of the other person in the front of his church, even though the collared cleric never showed the slightest hint of his knowledge of that frozen intruder, who was holding in his immobile grip a full plastic water bottle. Instead, as he continued his hobbling steps, the crippled man kept his gaze downwards, until he reached the altar, to then agonizingly kneel, laying his canes upon the hard floor, and he began saying his daily prayers.

A true man of his faith, the priest dedicated his full concentration to his devotions, totally ignoring the merest breeze coming from behind himself that caused the votive candles to flicker slightly, where the church's main door was now gingerly opened the smallest possible gap possible in order to allow a teenage boy to silently sneak out of the building, as this person then gently closed the massive, iron-banded oak door behind themselves. After several more minutes, the ancient minister finished, crossing himself while bowing his head, and then he reached out for his canes, to start the laborious struggle that would get him back up on his feet.

Breathing hard after accomplishing this, the priest hobbled down the aisle between the pews, to at last reach his goal. Stopping there in front of the main door, the priest peered at the hollow carved into the very stones of the wall itself on the right of this entrance, and he then sighed with deep relief and again crossed himself, at seeing that the holy water font there was filled no less than three-quarters of its original level after being drawn off by the intruder.

It appeared as if it was going to be another quiet week on the Hellmouth.

Even now, after nearly two years of residing upon that dimensional nexus to other realities having such an innocuous name as Sunnydale, and also after personally meeting some of its more peaceful unearthly residents, the priest still had a hard time believing all that he'd learned about what really lurked here in the night. Equally mind-boggling had been the original meeting back then in his native land that had resulted in him being sent here, with the other churchman who'd requested this of him compassionately explaining in the most simple terms to his dazed visitor about this elderly man's newest task, patiently waiting for his guest to recover from the utter shock of what he'd recently learned, where this had just happened, and exactly who'd told him all of this.

After all, it wasn't every day that a simple priest from a tiny Italian village had a personal, private audience with the Pope.

Earlier, this aged cleric had glumly traveled to Rome, summoned from his beloved church located at the Po Valley in northern Italy, and fully expecting to be told by one of his superiors the unhappy news that even after fighting tooth and nail for decades to remain a working priest, he was finally going to be forcibly retired. The first indication that something odd was going on started when the priest was firmly whisked away from a cramped office in the Vatican bureaucracy into a large, historic conference room filled with centuries-old furnishings and artwork, where he was assured by his guide that someone would see him soon. A few minutes later, the Holy Father himself had walked into the room.

Eventually, after learning about Sunnydale and the Hellmouth and vampires and demons and a good many other things that at first had the priest worriedly wondering in the privacy of his thoughts who exactly should be informed that His Holiness had apparently gone insane, a very shaken man then hesitantly asked exactly why he was being requested to travel all the way to America and take up his new duties as the priest of a small church there. While truly mindful of the honor now being bestowed upon himself, along with his superiors' evident trust, there was the minor point that even if he was in fairly good health for his age, he was ninety-six years old!

A very weary look now appeared upon the Pope's features, as he sadly explained further that was exactly why. Among all of humanity's religions, both those currently existing in the world and previously in the past, it was recognized by every side of good and evil that Hellmouths were neutral territory, totally off limits to practically every mortal creed thinking about meddling there. Today, only a very few spiritual personifications could directly act in these areas to influence those events and beings there, and these end results had come about only after immense supernatural conflicts that had risked destroying absolutely everything in existence. Even the Catholic Church had in the fullness of time learned the harsh lesson that it was merely allowed to send impartial observers to the Hellmouths, with none of those witnesses able to do more than that except in the most dire events. Those onlookers watched the humans and other entities going around their business while living there at the dimensional nexus, all knowing that even if these people were in communion with the Church, they could only be offered the comfort of their faith and what few indirect means of protection that could be provided by dedicated churchmen.

Those priests who had been sent to the Hellmouths by the Vatican over the millennia had of necessity been very special people. They were all willingly entering into a never-ending war without any kind of weapon or defense but the strength of their belief, and the bleak knowledge that in a corrupt location, no action by themselves could ever be performed to directly aid those fighting against evil creatures that continually strove to bring about the doom of the world. To underscore the need for absolute non-interference, the great majority of those sent to the Hellmouths by the Church had been infirm, aged, or otherwise incapable of physically participating in any kind of actual conflict.

The man a generation older than his illustrious company somberly thought about that, all while comparing his own life experiences to what he'd just heard. The Italian priest had grim experience with war, both when as a very young man he'd joined his country's armed forces during World War I, and then after taking holy orders, he'd again lived through a global conflict, only this time comforting and succoring the sick, wounded, and dying of any and all sides during World War II. Now, decades later, he was being asked to once again to join in a terrible struggle, to provide whatever limited help he could.

There was, of course, only one possible answer to that. After carefully kneeling in front of the satisfied man in his white robes, the priest murmured "Beatissimo Padre, I accept," as he then kissed the offered Ring of the Fisherman, which signified the holder was in the direct line of succession from Saint Peter himself. When the priest had once again gingerly regained his chair, several more question were cautiously asked by him, primarily concerning the forces of good, whoever they were, that hopefully wrestled with the creatures of the dark at the Hellmouth in that California city with its strange name. Surely, these mighty fighters were renowned soldiers more than capable of holding their own in battle?

A couple of minutes later, after being told about the Slayer and her few companions, the priest was whacking hard with his right cane against the surface of the antique table by himself, leaving some very impressive dents upon the historic piece of furniture, all while bellowing at the top of his lungs some extremely pungent Italian phrases normally used only by peasants expressing their infuriated feelings about an uncaring ox that had just painfully trod upon their bunioned foot. As his stick was about to pummel the table one more time, the cane was then abruptly jerked to a stop, as the priest finally remembered exactly where and whom he was with. Shooting a truly chagrined glance towards his ultimate earthly superior, the cleric blinked at seeing on the Pope's features a faint, wry smile, as His Holiness then ruefully chuckled, "Father, I said virtually the same when I first learned about what I just told you, only it was in Polish."

Nearly two years later, while remembering all this in the small house of worship located in Sunnydale, California, a Diocesan Catholic priest known to one and all as Don Camillo again knelt down on the stone floor of his church, totally ignoring the pain in his knees this caused, as the ancient churchman said a fierce prayer for the souls and bodies of his newfound flock, whether they were of his church or not, though they would never know of this. Included in this fervent appeal for aid from on high were the names of Buffy Summers, Rupert Giles, Xander Harris, Willow Rosenberg, and all those who were in their lives.

Author's Note and Disclaimer: For those of you who missed the crossover, Don Camillo is the beloved main character in numerous stories and books from the late 1940's to twenty years later ending with the author's death, all by Giovannino Guareschi, an Italian journalist, concerning the postwar rivalry in a small Italian town between the Catholic priest and the Communist mayor. The stories range from hilarious to touching, and they gained an international following. Several films and television programs have been made from the stories, and while the books are mostly out of print, any good secondhand bookstore and library might have them. You're urged to read them, if you can find them!

Further Note: I'm not Catholic, and for those readers who are, kindly overlook any mistakes I might have made. Also, I just wanted to bring a character that I enjoy very much into the Buffyverse, plus perhaps providing an actual reason for the lack of action by any religion in that demon-haunted city against those things lurking in the night, which the tv series carefully avoided mentioning. So, if you're offended by this story, don't take me to task for ruffling your religious sensibilities.