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Parishioners angered as church loses its only Sunday Mass in English

St Brigid's Church in Newry will no longer celebrate Mass in English on a Sunday. Picture by Bill Smyth

PARISHIONERS at a church in Newry have been left angered after their only Sunday Mass in English was scrapped.

The move means that the only option for parishioners on Sundays in St Brigid's parish will be a 9.30am Mass - in Polish.

It brings to an end almost five decades of Sunday Mass in English in St Brigid's, which was formally opened in 1970 to cater for the growing population of the Meadow area.

The announcement of the changes was made at Sunday Mass and parishioners have claimed that a petition which garnered 600 signatures had not been taken on board.

There will also be just one weekday Mass in the parish, on Fridays at 7pm, reduced from three previously.

Other parishes in Newry have seen their Masses cut back, with St Mary's Church losing its Saturday vigil Mass at 6.30pm, while Mass will no longer be celebrated at Newry Cathedral on Saturday mornings at 8.30am.

Masses at the Dominican Priory, which is unique from the three churches which form Newry Parish, will not be affected.

There are just five priests in Newry to serve the three parish churches, down from nine a decade ago.

Bishop of Dromore, John McAreavey, said that the decision to remove Masses was "a direct consequence of the falling number of priests".

SDLP Newry councillor Gary Stokes said that the move marked the "end of an era" for St Brigid's and that people in his own parish of St Mary's were also upset at losing their Saturday vigil Mass.

He told The Irish News: "There is the Polish Mass but the reality is that people feel that it is not relevant to them.

"What is getting people is that they think there will potentially never again be a Sunday Mass in their own parish."

The SDLP councillor said he and other elected representatives were "looking at getting a meeting" with Bishop McAreavey to discuss the matter.

"I know there was some talk of approaching the Bishop. It has also been suggested to me that the 9.30am Mass in St Brigid's could be said in both languages.

"People also appreciate that the church is under pressure, priests are working very hard and feel over-stretched and that there aren't the vocations there were."

In a statement, Bishop McAreavey said he and the priests of the diocese "regret the upset caused to parishioners by this decision".

The Bishop of Dromore said that the numbers celebrating Mass in St Brigid's had been monitored for six months and showed "consistently" higher attendance on Saturday evenings in comparison to Sundays at 11.30am.

"The number of Masses available at weekends in the parish (across the churches) will continue to be under review and may be reduced further, if necessary."

Bishop McAreavey added: "Similar decisions have been made in other parishes of the diocese. The situation in which the diocese finds itself at this time is a direct consequence of the falling number of priests."

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