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East Anglia trio honoured for service by Pope Francis

Three volunteers from the Diocese of East Anglia have been awarded Papal Blessings in recognition of a combined 90 years of service to the aid agency CAFOD.

Bernard Shaw has volunteered for 40 years and Mary Prentice and Sheila Dobey have each volunteered for 25 years, demonstrating a remarkable commitment to helping those in need. To mark this achievement and their Papal Blessings, which are bestowed by Pope Francis, they celebrated by having tea with Bishop Alan Hopes in Norwich.

A chemical engineer by profession, Bernard Shaw, 69, from Cambridge, started volunteering for CAFOD in the late 1970s. Since then he has been an extremely active campaigner, galvanising people across East Anglia to engage with issues such as climate change and poverty. More recently he has become an assessor for CAFOD's Livesimply scheme, which awards parishes which have demonstrated their commitment to living simply and standing in solidarity with the poor.

Bernard, who attends St Philip Howard church, was surprised to receive a Papal Blessing and still can't quite believe that he's been volunteering for CAFOD for so long: "If you'd asked me when I first started about whether I would still be volunteering for CAFOD in almost 40 years time, I would have said that it would be quite unlikely! But if my health stands up, I would think I'll still be volunteering in another ten years.

"We've seen progress since I started volunteering at CAFOD but we've also come across new challenges, such as people living in increasingly precarious environments. The importance of influencing government and the need for campaigning hasn't changed."

In contrast, it was the turn of the millennium that marked the start of Mary Prentice's journey with CAFOD. She began by running the CAFOD stall at the Walsingham shrine and despite a busy working life as a headteacher, she was also heavily involved in campaigning. Since becoming involved with CAFOD, she has written to her MP, encouraged others in her church to sign petitions and told everyone she can about CAFOD's work ' so much so that she was once affectionately nicknamed "The Commercial'!

Mary, 82, who attends Our Lady of Pity in Swaffham, was also surprised when she was awarded a Papal Blessing and also has happy memories of her time volunteering for CAFOD: "I had no idea I was going to be given a Papal Blessing! It's not something I'd ever thought about. 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!

"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 there 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!"

Sheila Dobey, a member of Our Lady in Stowmarket, has a different story again. A former English teacher, Sheila started volunteering for CAFOD in Preston before moving to Stowmarket in the 1980s. She inspired her parish of Our Lady to fundraise for CAFOD and more recently, to take part in the LiveSimply scheme.

The trio were invited to tea in Norwich by Bishop Alan, who wanted to thank them in person for their continuing services to CAFOD and to present them with their Blessings. It was, as Bishop Alan said, "A great occasion!" and a wonderful way to mark such an achievement.

CAFOD's representative in East Anglia, Stephen Matthews, said: "The dedication and enthusiasm Sheila, Bernard and Mary have shown over the years is inspirational. It is volunteers like them that allow CAFOD to bring life, hope and dignity to men, women and children from all around the world. Thank you for all that you have done and continue to do!"

Pictured above are, from the left, Mary, Sheila and Bernard with Bishop Alan.