A RETIRED teacher from Saltcoats has received recognition for his work on behalf of others - from no less a figure than the Pope.

John Mitchell has been imparted a papal blessing by Pope Francis for his charity work for some of the poorest people in the world.

John left teaching back in 1999, and ever since has dedicated much of his spare time to sharing the work of the charity Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) with primary and secondary school pupils throughout Scotland.

SCIAF works across Africa, Asia and Latin America, to end poverty, protect our common home, and help people recover from disaster.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: The blessing John received. The blessing John received. (Image: SCIAF)While John always wanted to make some contribution to society in a voluntary way, he said he only thought to apply to be a volunteer after his wife noticed the SCIAF advert in a newspaper.

He commented: “I had known, of course, about the work of SCIAF; it was emphasised in my school and in my parish, especially during Lent.

"I had always regarded the aims and objectives of SCIAF to be worthwhile and laudable.

“In particular, I appreciated the SCIAF policy of supporting and maintaining local initiatives in some of the poorest countries in the world.

"The SCIAF philosophy of enabling such groups to become self-sufficient particularly appealed to me.”

John especially enjoyed talking and sharing with school groups - whole school, individual classes and small sections, with pupils aged 5-18.

“I was frequently impressed by the extent and depth of their knowledge, even among the youngest children, of the work of SCIAF, and of the need to help the weakest and most disadvantaged in our world," John added. 

"I was often amazed at the perceptiveness of the questions which I received, even at primary level.”

During his many years as a volunteer, John travelled around the country – to Edinburgh, Fife, Lanarkshire, Dumfries and many remote parts of Ayrshire, among other places.

Sometimes he even met former pupils who were themselves now teachers and head teachers.

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: John with Mark Booker and Elaine McGinley from SCIAFJohn with Mark Booker and Elaine McGinley from SCIAF (Image: SCIAF)

John said: “Yes, these were always pleasant occasions with plenty of reminiscing.

“During those 20 years, I was privileged to learn from the extensive service and commitment of both the staff and volunteers at SCIAF.

"I sincerely feel that I personally gained so much more from my experience as a volunteer than I contributed.

"Also, I know that many of the volunteers do a great deal more for SCIAF than I was able to do.”

Now the recipent of an apostolic blessing or papal blessing for his work, John said he is simply "overwhelmed".

This papal blessing is a blessing imparted by the Pope, either directly or by delegation through others. Bishops are empowered to grant it three times a year.

John said: “I felt overwhelmed when I was told that I was to be the recipient of a papal blessing, however, I would like to think that the blessing was not just for me, but for all those other dedicated volunteers.

“To any other retired teachers who are thinking about becoming a SCIAF Schools Volunteer, I would say, please put yourself forward.”

Parish priest Canon Martin Poland added: “It is fitting that John's contribution to the work of SCIAF has been recognised with this papal blessing. 

"John has been most generous in sharing his talents with others and is constantly aware of the goodness in other people and a desire to assist those less fortunate.”

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: John Mitchell with Canon Martin PolandJohn Mitchell with Canon Martin Poland (Image: SCIAF)