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.
On board the vessel, I found myself sitting next to a Russian couple from near Moscow, with whom I discussed the pilgrimage, Mary’s Meals, and their own wanderings. One place they talked about was the Kola Peninsula in NW Russia, about the same size as Scotland, with 65,000 lakes and only 30,000 people. They’d been to Loch Lomond before, so it was amusing to hear them say that they could “only dream” of visiting Lake Baikal, as if this could present them with more difficulty than visiting Scotland! In the course of our 40-odd minute passage we were treated to a commentary by the skipper, who indicated for instance an island which Robert the Bruce stocked with deer for hunting. What we didn’t hear about though, was the Monks’ Island from which Irish missionary St Kessog (at one time Scotland’s patron saint) and his followers undertook the evangelisation of this region in the early 6th century. In accordance with the tradition that Kessog arrived here in 510AD (he is believed to have been martyred in 520), 1500 years of continuous Christian presence in the area was celebrated in 2010. Disembarking at Luss there was a very large, completely unflappable swan on the quayside to greet us. I mentioned to my co-passengers the tradition in Britain, whereby swans are given special protection, as they are said to belong to the reigning monarch, to which they said that they are given special status in Russia too, since swans mate for life, and so would be all at sea if one spouse was bumped off. After giving them a Mary’s Meals leaflet with my email we said adieu.
Presently I came to Luss CoS parish church, and thence to the manse, where I was warmly welcomed by the minister Rev Dr Dane Sherrard, who with his wife Rachael had been contemporaries of my Dad at St Andrews in the late 1960s/early 70s. In recent decades he had extensively developed the pilgrimage potential of Luss, a very attractive village with magnificent views over the loch, whose name probably comes from the Latin ‘Lux’, meaning ‘Light’. Another notable thing about Dane is that he is a member of what must surely be a very select club of Church of Scotland ministers, with a passion for the game of cricket.
Pilgrims' Palace, Luss
Giving him a copy of World Without End, the account of the pilgrimage I made to Mexico, I was shown to my excellent lodgings in a single-storey annexe, known as the ‘Pilgrims’ Palace’. My mention of St Martin of Tours was important here, because Rev Dane told me immediately that I would therefore need to visit Whithorn, on the coast of Galloway, where Scotland’s first church, built by St Ninian, is believed to have been dedicated to St Martin. As arrangements were made for my move into the ‘Palace’ meanwhile, a fighter jet came thundering past, just a few metres above the surface of the loch. The last time they did that, apparently, was in prelude to the campaign in Libya in 2011, though on that occasion the flights were even more intensive, and nocturnal.
Rev Dane and Rachel had a prior engagement that evening – dinner at a local restaurant with two fellow CoS ministers, one a Glaswegian who also studied at St Andrews, the other a visitor from South Africa, whose appearance reminded me strongly of golfer Ernie Els. The decision to invite me to join them was very generous and trusting on my host’s part, since although he knew my Dad, we were only just meeting for the first time. And indeed, when I put forward my idea that Dundee and St Andrews share some characteristics with Bristol and Bath, it was a trust that appeared to have been disastrously misplaced, since it turned out that Rev Dane is a Dundonian! When we came back to the manse, I realised I could give my hosts a message of appreciation written on the back of an ideal postcard I’d bought in St Andrews; a photograph of one of the extraordinary 15th century university maces.
The delicious meal, towards which I didn’t have to contribute a penny, had been lubricated by a glass or two of ale, ensuring a very sound sleep that night. On the morning of Friday 3rd of May, dedicated to SS Philip and James, I gave them a couple of chocolate Easter eggs which were going to get broken otherwise, and then got a lift from Dane, accompanied by the South African clergyman, to a place called Balloch on the southern shore of Loch Lomond. From there the cheating continued unabated with a train ride to Glasgow, as I was expected that evening in Partick, a district in the north west of the city, and was hoping to do a couple of other things in the meantime. One of these was to find the Mary’s Meals charity shop on Duke Street, in order to snoop around for any articles which might prove useful – a few packets of bootlaces, and a little set of soap bars in the shape of miniature footballs (for their gift potential) were added to my kit. Another thing I did that day was put the long-drawn-out Russian language novena book into the post for the student of French and Russian I’d met in St Andrews. She later told me in an email that her Russian studies would subsequently be dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima.
At 3pm I came back to Glasgow Queen Street station, to meet up with a friend I’ve known since my first pilgrimage to Medjugorje, in the summer of 1998 (we were part of the same group, travelling by air). He and I took a bus to Glasgow University chapel. St Mungo with a fish is prominent among the figures in the stained glass windows there, but our primary aim was to see a good temporary exhibition about the life and work of David Livingstone, who attended Greek and Theology lectures at Glasgow in the 1830s. Afterwards we called in to a nearby Italian café, for tea initially, but then a beer or two. Graeme (not his real name) had an excellent joke which bears reproduction here:
“A patient in hospital couldn’t understand why every meal was the same – haggis, neeps [turnips] and tatties [potatoes]. He asked one of the nurses why this was so. ‘What did you expect?’ came the reply. ‘This is the Burns unit.’”
He also gave me £10 for Mary’s Meals, and I gave him the second and last of the copies of World Without End that I was carrying with me. When we emerged from the café, a rainbow projected onto the sky above Glasgow’s West End was one of the most vivid and spectacular I’ve ever seen.
Fr Daniel Gallagher
Dr David Livingstone
My next mission was to locate the RC church of St Simon, Partick, where I was expected by the priest, Fr Willy Slavin. In St Andrews I’d picked up a leaflet about events to mark Livingstone’s bicentenary, and seen that there would be a special commemorative walk from St Simon’s in Partick to Blantyre (again), on the next day, Saturday 4th May. Fr Slavin was well acquainted with Mary’s Meals of course, and had kindly agreed to put me up in a camper van behind the presbytery, which is reached via a dining area called ‘Café Simon’. Besides an affecting portrait of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, this room has two excellent paintings by Roy Petrie, one of Dr Livingstone, and the other of the founder of St Simon’s parish, Fr Daniel Gallagher. Before his ordination to the priesthood, Fr Gallagher’s immeasurably important contribution to Livingstone’s early career was to have taught him Latin – an essential pre-requisite, in the 19th century, for anyone wishing to study medicine.
 The story goes that “…Queen Languoreth of Strathclyde was suspected of infidelity by her husband. King Riderch demanded to see her ring, which he claimed she had given to her lover. In reality the King had thrown it into the River Clyde. Faced with execution she appealed for help to Mungo, who ordered a messenger to catch a fish in the river. On opening the fish, the ring was miraculously found inside, which allowed the Queen to clear her name.” [Wikipedia]