Clergyman vents his frustration as Gran Fondo road closures force church to cancel children's service
Race organisers sorry for disruption as cleric says Sabbath held in contempt
A clergyman has hit out at the Giro d'Italia after he was forced to cancel an annual service for children.
Free Presbyterian minister David McLaughlin said his congregation's religious freedom had been "curtailed" by the Gran Fondo, the race's legacy event.
His Carryduff Free Presbyterian Church sits on the 175km route from Titanic Belfast to the Mournes being taken on by cyclists this Sunday.
As a result, access to the church, which lies on the Killynure Road, will be blocked for almost five hours.
"This means the congregation will not be able to get to church for their Sunday worship," Reverend McLaughlin said.
"We were not consulted about this, but simply told that the road was being closed.
"We have consulted with the police, and public representatives, who have been as helpful as they can be.
"But at the end of it all, the event is going to go ahead and we are having our religious freedom curtailed.
"We have moved our services forward, but we have had to defer our annual children's day and our monthly communion service.
"The children's day service involves the children from the Sunday school taking part in various classes and reciting pieces of scripture.
"Some of the children might say a poem while others will sing and play musical instruments."
As part of a protest, a banner has been erected outside the building making clear the church's opposition to holding the event on a Sunday.
Reverend McLaughlin said he spoke to organisers about holding the race on the Lord's Day.
"Co-operation Ireland, Northern Ireland Tourism and Shadetree Sports' scheduling of this event is another testimony to the disdain in which the Sabbath is held in our province," he added. "This Gran Fondo was planned without any thought for, or consultation with, the local church community. It impacts greatly on our right and freedom to worship at a time of our choosing."
Mr McLaughlin further claimed there were more 80 churches dotted throughout the cycling course running from Belfast to the mountains.
However, Gran Fondo organiser and Shadetree Sports director, Darach McQuaid, said all reasonable efforts had been made to lessen the impact of the event on local communities.
"We have tried to accommodate the communities we pass through as much as possible, and we are not in the business of knowingly upsetting parishioners or businesses or residents along the route," he added.
"It's a sporting event that does have to pass through these areas, and we will have an impact on people.
"I'm very sorry the reverend feels so strongly and upset about the event, but it's a very important event in terms of the local economy and the communities we are going through, including the reverend's community.
"While we're sorry to hear about his upset, we've done as much as we can to make everyone aware of the road closures.
"We've also tried to get the word out as far in advance to ensure that people can plan around the event."