Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Mass in English axed at Newry church due to priest shortage

By Brett Campbell

Worshippers in Newry have been left disappointed by the Bishop of Dromore's surprise announcement to end the only English language Sunday Mass at St Brigid's Church.

A dramatic fall in the number of priests has forced the Co Down church to end the service after nearly 50 years.

A decade ago there were nine priests serving Newry Parish; today there are just three.

The announcement was made at the very last 11.30am Sunday Mass at the church, when parishioners were told that they could instead attend a Saturday evening service or the Sunday Polish Mass in the church.

Weekly services have been stripped back from three to just one, on a Friday evening.

The 9.30am Saturday morning Mass in the city's cathedral, the Saturday vigil at St Mary's Old Chapel and other services have also been axed.

The congregation in the Meadow parish have been angered that they were not consulted prior to the shock announcement and are disappointed that a petition attracting 600 signatures had not been acknowledged.

Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey said the changes were regrettable, but necessary.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, he said: "There is a sadness to it, of course there is. People are attached to their own Mass, their own church, and sometimes even their own seat. I say this with respect because we all have habits, particularly with religious practice."

He explained that he had an obligation to protect the wellbeing of the priests: "I have a responsibility to make sure there is adequate provision of services, but I also have a responsibility to make sure priests do not find themselves with a burden that is unsustainable. I don't want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, and that's our clergy."

The bishop said that falling priest numbers and a decline in church attendance, with the exception of Christmas Eve, had led to the changes.

He added that the community must accept provisions once made possible by nine priests cannot continue with a third of that number. He also expressed doubts over the sustainability of the four Sunday Mass services at Newry Cathedral.

"The last thing I want to do is be responsible for damaging people's faith and I am very sensitive about that. When you disturb how people express their faith, sometimes they don't find a new pattern. They will stop praying and fall away. They will drift," he said.

"It's the only Polish Mass, and it's important that we keep it.

"They haven't got a Polish church and it's right that they use ours, because they are part of our community."

Elizabeth O’Rourke (64)

My daughter and I went to the Sunday morning  Mass in St Brigid’s in the Meadow — we are very upset. Now we go the service at 11 o’clock in the Dominican, but it’s not our church. We don’t feel as ‘at home’ there. They kept the Polish Mass and the Saturday Mass, but Saturday is not the holy day, Sunday is the holy day.

Dermot Monaghan (78)

I go to the Saturday night service in the Cathedral, but I’m annoyed for other people.

I think the Church has its priorities wrong — why cut local services? It’s great to see the Polish community here, I really think they are fantastic people, but I’d like to know what the figures are.

Maria McAleavy (49)

I don’t think there should be cuts. For a lot of people Mass is a comfort. People like to go when it suits them; if they can’t get out during the day they are able to go in the evening. It’s nice to have that flexibility. It’s a public service in a way, especially in times of bereavement. Especially anniversary Masses.

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