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 some of the world's poorest communities. As seen in the window of a cafe in Lilongwe, Malawi:
"If you think education is expensive - try ignorance."
its early stages, the pilgrimage had a sort of working title, A Walk to a Lake on the Way to a Church,
the lake being Baikal.
On first sight, under a grey sky, it looked very much like a big Scottish loch,
but for all the fathomless, monster-harbouring depths of such meres, you could practically
pour one into Lake Baikal, and scarcely anyone would notice. The so-called
‘Pearl of Siberia’ is a completely different kettle of fish, long known as a
‘sea’ rather than a lake, and said to contain as much as 20% of the world’s
unfrozen fresh water.
Moreover, for the most part this water is exceptionally clean, making Baikal a
veritable El Dorado of bio-diversity, with more than 1,700 species of plants and
animals, two thirds them endemic.
I visited one of several lakeside cafes, and
exchanged a few words with a troika of Polish bikers, on their way from Warsaw
to Vladivostok. When i produced a photo of Wroclaw they invited me over to
their table and ordered me a tasty local Buryat speciality called Buuza (Pozy in Russian; a large variety of pelmeni, meat dumplings), and half a litre of beer. Asking one of
them about the apparently intractable complexities of relations between Poland
and Russia, i was told that it simply all comes down to history.
In brighter weather
Presently the sun came out. Ambling along a
road parallel to the shoreline with an eye to establishing where i was going to
sleep, i exchanged pleasantries with some Antipodean tourists, stopping over on
their way from Hong Kong to St Petersburg. As the evening wore on however there
was some vexation, when a host of different places had to be ruled out for one
reason or another. So it was some relief at about 11pm when a fisherman asked
if i needed somewhere to stay, quoting 12 euros for a bed. He phoned the landlady
of a B&B over the road, and soon i was being warmly welcomed and shown to a
great little room with pinewood walls. On the morning of Wednesday 29th
June 2011, feast of SS Peter and Paul, i awoke to a magnificent view across the
25 million year-old tarn, and went downstairs for a free cup of coffee in the
company of two holiday-makers from Paris. It happened to be the Diamond Jubilee
of the ordination of Fr Joseph Ratzinger, known to us now as Pope Benedict XVI.
Recalling this event, which took place in Friesing, Bavaria, on 29th
June 1951, he notes:
“...at the moment the
elderly Archbishop (Cardinal Michael von Faulhaber) laid his hands on me, a
little bird – perhaps a lark – flew up from the altar in the high cathedral and
trilled a little joyful song.”
On the subject of priestly ordination, Pope
Benedict has of course made clear that the priesthood is reserved only to men.
Russians generally cope better with this simple fact than many people in
certain spiritually devastated western countries, who fancy that the Church is
under an obligation to yield to secular reasoning. Women can no more be
ordained than men can be impregnated.
Church of St Nicholas, Listvyanka
morning i did some exploration ‘inland’, as it were, and came to another pretty
wooden church of St Nicholas, where i prayed my rosary, and lit a candle before
a beautiful icon of Our Lady, entrusting to her the remainder of my pilgrimage.
Nearby i also made a mental note of a little derelict dacha over the road,
where theoretically it would be possible to spend the night. Laundry meanwhile was
my next priority; equipped with a bar of soap i headed down to the shoreline,
to take advantage of the fabled purity of the water of Lake Baikal. I didn’t
try drinking it, but while washing clothes i soon discovered that, if one ever
did drink it, it would never be necessary to add ice. It is so cold, i literally couldn’t put my hand in for more
than a few seconds without feeling pain. However, as i made a right old hoo-ha about
this, along came a group of Russian pensioners, who calmly changed into their
swimming costumes and fully submerged themselves in the pitiless Siberian
 This name translates
approximately “Nature Lake”.
 Russians are sometimes prone to
exaggeration (for instance, i heard it said that the lake has a surface area
the size of Denmark – not quite true), but this estimate about the volume of
water is accepted by scientists around the world, on account of Baikal’s
unimaginable depth (1643 metres at
its deepest point).