On Sea Sunday, us landlubbers will blithely offer up prayers for those in peril on the seas we so seldom see or cross. It is a reminder to us that we were once great as a seafaring folk, just as the rare visit of a missioner to his parish is a reminder that his life could have been very different.

The missioner comes to beg, to take alms away. But he brings into the presbytery the heat of an African sun; the faintest whiff of a world far removed from the daily trudge down to Ackerman Street in the drizzle.

As a priest and missioner vest prior to Mass, the difference between them becomes apparent. Muscular, bronzed arms scored with a dozen cuts and scratches, hands more 

accustomed to stripping down engines than to completing marriage forms. A face chiselled from sun and sand. Swift impatient motions with the accoutrements designed to distinguish priest from people.

Later, as he listens to the missioner make his appeal, the priest wonders – not for the first time – whether he made the right choice. The missioner tells of a parish covering 100 miles, of people who walk two days to reach a Mass centre. He recounts the ravages of civil war upon his parishioners, their daily tussle to find food and water.

He begins to listen with only half his mind. Instead he looks down on his Sunday congregation. Comfortable, content folk – neither too bad nor too good. They'll pop a fiver into the box when they leave; some will be moved to make it more. And then they'll forget.

But he'll be left with this buzzing in his head. Was his vocation with the physically starving or the spiritually undernourished? His doubt will diminish when the missioner leaves for another parish. He'll tell them that we must grow where we're planted. And he'll be right.

• From Through the Year with the Catholic Faith by Norman Cresswell. Published by Fount.


View from the Pew by Norman Cresswell