SA: How did your journey as a Columban missionary begin?
PS: I was born in 1943 in Aldershot, England, and one of my earliest memories is of being asked by one of the nuns in my primary school to think about being a priest. I returned the next day and said it wasn’t for me! After graduating from Leicester University, I worked in the car industry before training as a Secondary School teacher. It was on a diocesan training course that the thought of becoming a priest began to grow. Eventually, I applied to the Birmingham Archdiocese and was sent to study in Rome. There, I felt drawn to the missions and with the blessing of Archbishop Dwyer I joined the Columbans.
SA: Your missionary journey has taken you to Peru and the Philippines. What memory do you cherish most from your cross-cultural encounters in other countries?
PS: Following my ordination in 1973 I was assigned to Peru and I went to work in the shanty towns of the capital, Lima. One of my great joys in a parish of more than 100,000 people was the children’s Mass attended each week by hundreds of children. Another joy was the setting-up of the very first soup kitchen when it became apparent that many of the children were malnourished. Eventually, there were thirty soup kitchens spread across the parish.
SA: What are you most proud of from your time as Editor of the Far East?
PS: It was a great privilege to present stories from the priests and sisters to the people at home and to show the missionary activity of the Church at grassroots level. I was often busy gathering articles, taking photos and writing editorials, ably supported by Sr. Redempta Twomey. I recall the time we moved the process on to computers for the first time. It took hours! But we met the deadline! To all the many wonderful people who have supported, and still support, our magazine, helping to fund our work around the world, I say a very special “Thank you!”
SA: In the Prayer Trust booklets and your new book, every prayer has a picture and all of them are photographs taken by you. How important has photography been to your life as a missionary?
PS: I have long had an interest in photography and being editor of the Far East gave me an even greater appreciation of the power conveyed by a good photograph, just as Jesus used imagery in his preaching. The Prayer Trust began in the Millennium year 2000 and photography was of paramount importance. We wanted each prayer to be accompanied by a photograph that enhanced its meaning, such as a simple flower to express sympathy or joy, or a striking landscape to show God’s beautiful creation. A number of the photographs in ‘Jubilee Prayers and Pictures’ were taken around the parish in Warwickshire where I served for 17 years.
SA: The Prayer Trust receives book orders from all over the world. What is the secret to its universal and enduring appeal?
PS: The Prayer Trust has printed over seven million books, which have found their way into parishes, homes, prisons, hospitals and schools. We publish the prayers, but the people who ask for them are missionaries too. They have joined us in our mission to share prayer everywhere and so encourage as many as possible to know and love the Lord. They come from all the various Christian Churches, many with no specific role in their parish, group or community, but who want to do something to share God’s love with others. At the significant moments in people’s lives and to join in the Church’s seasons and feasts, people buy the booklets to share with friends and relatives, neighbours, colleagues, with those who are ill or suffering and those who feel far away from the Lord’s love. The Prayer Trust’s secret is simple – giving the possibility to so many to share in the Church’s mission and to serve the Lord.
SA: ‘Jubilee Prayers and Pictures’ is a celebration of your life as a missionary with the Columbans and with the Prayer Trust. How did you choose the prayers included and what is your prayer for those who buy the book?
PS: With great difficulty! There were many to choose from, though I also wanted to include some new prayers composed in my jubilee year. Many of the prayers in our booklets are read aloud in groups and at gatherings, and this was an important consideration. I like to choose words that are simple, uncomplicated for their sense and for their delivery in public, and accessible to all, so that everyone can become part of the Prayer Trust family. My simple prayer for those who buy the book is that they may know God’s love and that they are welcome to join our mission to share prayer everywhere.
The Prayer Trust has merged with the Columban Missionaries Britain and now operates under the charity number 221594. See the advert below for details of how to order ‘Jubilee Prayers and Pictures’. For details of other titles, visit www.theprayertrust.org.uk or Tel: 01564 773 246.