Long-serving Walsingham volunteer honoured by the Pope

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A long-serving volunteer has been honoured by the Pope for her work on behalf of a Catholic charity.

Mary Prentice, who lives in Swaffham, took tea with the Bishop of East Anglia, the Rt Rev Alan Hopes, after receiving a Papal Blessing from Pope Francis.

The former school headteacher, who moved to Swaffham from Downham two years ago, has been honoured for more than 20 years of service to CAFOD, the Catholic church’s charity agency in England and Wales.

Mary ran the charity’s tall at the Walsingham shrine, as well as encouraging other worshippers to support its work and lobbying politicians.

She was even nicknamed “The Commercial” for taking any opportunity she could to promote the charity.

And she admitted the award from Rome had come as a complete surprise.

She said: “I had no idea I was going to be given a Papal Blessing.

“It’s not something I’d ever thought about and I still haven’t come down to Earth.

“All the ladies in the congregation were teasing me by looking through for their best Ascot hats for me to wear to tea with the Bishop.”

She added: “I probably got more out of volunteering in Walsingham than anyone else, I loved meeting people.

“Everybody who came was so keen to tell you what they were doing for CAFOD in their parish.

“It was wonderful, they were so proud and had such enthusiasm.

“That was the thing that really impressed me, the love the Catholic laity have for CAFOD. When they do all that they do, the least I could do was open the stall.”

Stephen Matthews, CAFOD’s representative in East Anglia, said: “The dedication and enthusiasm Mary has shown over the years is inspirational.

“It is volunteers like her that allows CAFOD to bring life, hope and dignity to men, women and children from all around the world.”