Wednesday, 30 August 2017


“YOU ARE SAILING…IN 3 WEEKS…TICKETS BOOKED!” Those were the instructions my brother Peter and I received from the Superior of the English Province of the Dominican Order!   This was straight after  we young inexperienced priests had finished our theological studies, in1958.  No if or buts, no consultation.   No complaints.   After all, we’d taken a vow of obedience.   We were to sail for the W. Indies.  We’d just enough time to get our passports. As we embarked, the risen Lord’s words to His apostles seemed very appropriate for us budding missionaries,  As the Father has sent me, so I send you,"  (Jn. 20.21).

For us young priests sailing for the W. Indies was an exciting journey into the unknown, the exotic tropical island of Grenada.  Our speedy dispatch allowed no time to learn about its history and culture.  After years of philosophy and theology we were eager to get on with the work to which we’d been called.  We were so urgently needed that we were exempted from the usually required course of Pastoral Training. We were thrown in at the deep end and expected to learn to swim.

Getting there meant embarking at Liverpool docks on a wet, cold, foggy November night.    Our ship, the ‘Hilary’, was a  ‘Distinguished Old Lady.’   She had served gallantly during the War -in the invasion of Sicily, the Atlantic Convoys, the D. Day Landing.  She had survived being hit by a torpedo, which fortunately didn’t explode.  

 Now-a-days people fly to their postings in the W. Indies in a matter of hours.   Not us.  We would cruise at a leisurely pace and our journey would take nineteen days.   That in itself was a real holiday, a wonderful, colourful experience.  We had been warned that the Bay of Biscay could be rough -but not for us.  Instead, it was as calm as the proverbial mill pond, covered by a dense fog.  Our speed was reduced to dead slow; around us fog horns lowed like a heard of mournful  cows, hopefully preventing us from crashing into other ships.  It was all so still and eerie.

Life on board was colourful.  Among our  fellow passengers there was a number of W. Indians, who delighted us with calypsos. The First Class passengers decided that they gave us a much better time than the entertainment provided for them.  So, they joined us in their formal evening dress after their dinner.  (I doubt if we would have been allowed to join them!)

Many ocean-going ships have a chapel.  Not ours.   When the sea was sufficiently calm we could say Mass in the bar, before the other passengers were up.   Not a particularly devotional atmosphere, with chairs stacked on the tables and a pervading smell of stale beer -not incense.  With some of the passengers joining us, we formed a miniature Pilgrim Church.

Our long voyage was punctuated by the exotic colours and sights of the places we visited -Vigo, Lisbon and Madeira,   where we made a pilgrimage round its famous wine cellars, taking a sample at each.  From Madeira we set out on the long haul to Barbados and then Trinidad.    Gradually the temperature became hotter; that helped to prepare us for working in a tropical climate.  From Trinidad we flew to Grenada. As we stepped off the plane we were struck by a blast of hot air, as though someone had just flung open a furnace door.  The atmosphere was strongly perfumed by the spices for which Grenada is famous.

Reflecting on our voyage to the W. Indies, to share the Good News, sums up what is true for all Christians.   As members of the Pilgrim Church, we have been commissioned to proclaim the Good News.   We’ve been called to be working members of the crew, none of us passengers, whatever our age or strength.   Sometimes our journey will be smooth, at other times rough.   Sometimes we will be lost in a dense fog.  (Peter and I seem prone to that!)  But always Jesus will be leading us to the safe-haven of the Kingdom of Heaven.   Bon Voyage!
Isidore O.P.

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