Here was great excitement within the [Nigerian] Anglican community [at Dr Runcie’s visit], as some time earlier His Holiness the Pope had paid a state visit to the country and considerably boosted the image of the Roman Catholic Church, while at the same time depleting its fortune. (I refer, of course, to treasure garnered on earth. Heavenly treasure was no doubt increased immeasurably.) Our car slowed to allow us to pass through a triumphal arch that had been erected across the roadway. A rather sinister-looking picture of Dr Runcie adorned the gateway, but this proved to be only a preliminary indication of what was to come.
The street broadened into a wide boulevard with a thin central reservation. Along this narrow strip, stretching as far as the eye could see, life-size cardboard cut-out images of His Grace of Canterbury had been erected. The image portrayed was of the Archbishop in full ecclesiastical garb, clutching the Canterbury Cross and smiling somewhat cynically. Here was actual proof that the Secretary General of the Anglican Council had not been wrong when he indicated rapid growth in Nigeria. There were, at rough count, three dozen
Archbishops of Canterbury and probably more around the corner.
The Chaplain, who had been busy scribbling, glanced up from his labour and squinted at a street trader carrying a tray of colourful objects. ‘Good heavens,’ he exclaimed, ‘just look at that…and THAT!’
His attention had been caught by an item that had failed to sell out during the papal visit and was no on offer for the second time. It was a baseball cap carrying the inscription, Welcome to the Holly Father.
The Chaplain was a collector of hats, ecclesiastical and civil, and was reputed to be writing an authoritative work on the history of headgear. He pressed a coin into the hand of the vendor and took a cap for his collection.
He declined the second item, which was a balloon bearing the image of our employer. The intelligent vendor of this unusual novelty displayed a little card on which was written, ‘Support the Anglican Communion and blow up the Archbishop of Canterbury.’
‘Very droll,’ murmured the Chaplain as he rewound the window: ‘Very droll indeed.’
From chapter 1 of Travels with a Primate – around the world with Archbishop Robert Runcie, published by HarperCollins 2000