In 2017, the cost of feeding a child at school for a whole year is still a snip at just £13.90. Mary's Meals is now providing school meals to well over a million children, in communities held in subjection to poverty and hunger. As well as fundraising efforts however, I've also written about failures of diplomacy in the developed world, inhibiting efforts to deal collaboratively with crises such as the famine now menacing East Africa and Yemen.
First of all you had the beautifully restored late
18th century church of Our Lady of the Assumption, one of the first
generation of Catholic churches in Russia,
visited by an impeccably well-behaved group of schoolchildren while i was
there. Then i made for the Kremlin,
brainchild of Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century, and taking on
its current appearance around the beginning of the 18th century.
Besides two fine cathedrals, also of interest within its walls is a chapel said
to house relics of St Cyril, known as Apostle
to the Slavs (with his brother St Methodius).
Cathedral with relics of St Cyril, Astrakhan
evening it was nice to find myself in a proper ‘platzkart’ (3rd class, but clean and comfortable)
carriage on a real-life Russian locomotive. There is always a giant boiler/ samovar type thing at one end, from
which hot drinks are served in glasses with special metal holders. If there’s
one drawback, it is that a minority of Russians like to get drunk on them - two
good ol’ boys sitting opposite me
were clearly fond of this custom. One was basically harmless, but wished to
scrutinise the sincerity of my motives to go on pilgrimage; while the other was
prime suspect in the matter of a banknote that disappeared from my wallet. Then
after a good sleep, i did feel a bit of a chump in the morning, when i had to
be told that we weren’t due to reach Kazan until the next day. Russia being what it is, even a south-to-northjourney, like this one, will take up a
goodly measure of one’s earthly sojourn.
On that carriage I also spoke briefly with a woman who noticed the
postcards i was writing, and my Guadalupe badge. Showing her a picture of the
Icon of Our Lady of Kazan which i was hoping to see, it turned out that she too
was a Muslim, but she nonetheless asked me to say a prayer there, on her
original of this most revered of all Russian icons is said to have been
discovered in 1579, and subsequently venerated as a palladium
for several centuries, until its theft and probable destruction in 1904. Amid
the ferment of war and revolution in the succeeding years, the Roman Church
came into possession of an important copy (at one time supposed to be the
original), which eventually found its way onto the wall of Blessed John Paul
II’s study. As a result of his freely returning it, in August 2004,
it is now housed in the Church of the Elevation of the Cross, inside the Virgin
Monastery of the Theotokos, Kazan. Sadly, just days after the Orthodox
festivities attending its arrival, there occurred on Russian soil perhaps the
single most heinous atrocity committed anywhere in this century; the brutal
school siege in Beslan. I actually believe this act was an expression of
satanic rage at the affront to his authority that had taken place.
 These owed
their existence principally to Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia from
1762-1796, and specifically to the invitation she extended to Europeans, to
immigrate and farm Russian land. Most of those who responded were from Germany,
among whom were many Catholics. The descendants of these so-called Volga
Germans were deported to the gulags and elsewhere in Kazakhstan and Siberia on
the outbreak of war with Germany in 1941. Since the demise of the Soviet Union,
many have taken up a ‘right of return’ to Germany.
 Many older
Russian towns and cities have a Kremlin - a fortress, often enclosing the local
headquarters of civil and religious administration.
 An icon, or other artwork, on
which the safety of a city or country is believed to depend; Our Lady of
Czestochowa is the Polish equivalent.
The Pope had longed to visit
Russia in person to return it, but this proved ‘a visa too far’.