First Mass held at ex-Presbyterian church in Belfast
Landmark celebration draws bishop and canons
Mass was held for the first time on Wednesday night in a former Belfast Presbyterian church after the disused building was bought by a Catholic order.
The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest purchased Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church in north Belfast after the 133-year-old building held its last Presbyterian service in October 2018.
The property on the Antrim Road had served as a place of worship for generations, but a dwindling congregation meant it was not feasible to keep services running.
The congregation amalgamated with Whitehouse Presbyterian Church on the Shore Road last year. Speaking at the time, Rev Ken Doherty, who conducted the final service at the church, said: "It's a sad fact that a lack of manpower and a lot of people moving out of the north Belfast area during the Troubles, and the Antrim Road area in particular, has meant not enough younger people have been joining the congregation in the last few decades."
The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest took out a five-year, interest-free loan to buy the building, which once boasted Belfast's tallest spire.
A spokesman for the church, now named Fortwilliam and Macrory Catholic Church Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, said the group was grateful to the elders of the former congregation and the community for allowing the opportunity to continue Christian worship.
The institute also expressed its gratitude to His Lordship Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down and Connor, for his permission to reopen the church.
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Bishop Treanor was in attendance on Wednesday night during the celebration of solemn vespers, which is the official evening prayer of the church and is composed of psalms, hymns and readings.
The celebrant was Monsignor Gilles Wach, Prior General of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. Several canons, seminarians and Diocesan clergy also attended.
The Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest was invited to serve in Ireland in the Diocese of Limerick. It established its headquarters there in 2006.
The Pro-Provincial and Prior of Sacred Heart Church in Limerick is Canon Lebocq, who has been serving in Belfast once or twice a month since 2009.
The institute celebrates the classical Roman Liturgy - the Latin Mass - in its Extraordinary Form, according to the liturgical books promulgated by Saint Pope John XXIII in 1962.
This liturgy, promoted by Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis in various documents, is attracting an increasing number of people, especially young adults, students and families.