At the height of empire, Britain used to send missionaries out to Africa and Asia to instruct the natives in personal hygiene, instil good table manners and preach the gospel. The occasional unlucky one found himself in a cannibal’s pot for his trouble; but mostly they won out, establishing themselves as the kindly, civilising arm of imperialism, founding schools and clinics, and converting the heathen. Back home, the public was jolly proud of them. British missionaries were both an expression and a source of Britain’s muscular national self-assurance.So what are we to think of ourselves today, now that we are on the receiving end of missionary attention? For, all over the country, from the hamlets of rural Somerset to the urban centres of the north-east, Catholic priests from abroad, many of them from former colonial territories in Africa and the subcontinent, are hard at work keeping the flickering flame of faith alive by preaching the gospel to the English.