Northern Ireland news

West Belfast man awarded medal by the Pope for life-long devotion to Catholic Church dies aged 103

Billy Burns, pictured in 2016, when he was honoured with the prestigious Benemerenti medal for his services to the Catholic Church. Picture by Hugh Russell

A WEST Belfast man awarded a medal by the Pope for his life-long devotion to the Catholic Church has died aged 103.

Tributes have been paid to Billy Burns, from Ballymurphy, after he passed away on Saturday.

Parish priest Fr Patrick McCafferty said Mr Burns had given "exceptional and noteworthy service" by serving the parish of Corpus Christi for almost 70 years.

In 2016 when he celebrated his 100th birthday, Mr Burns was honoured with the prestigious Benemerenti medal for his services to the Catholic Church.

The rare accolade was awarded by the Pope for his dedication to the Catholic Church.

It was originally established as an award to soldiers in the Papal Army, but later extended to clergy and the laity for services to the church.

Mr Burns dedication to Corpus Christi began in 1951 when he responded to a request by a priest to take up the Sunday Mass collection.

During the building of new churches in the parish, including Corpus Christi and the Church of The Annunciation, the father-of-11 also prepared school halls where Mass was held during the renovations.

Mr Burns, originally from the Half Bap area of north Belfast - now known as the Cathedral Quarter - was also in the Fire Service during the Second World War and worked as a tiler in London.

The accolade from the Pope in 2016 came shortly after Mr Burns' dedication to St Vincent de Paul was celebrated during a special service at Corpus Christi, when he was presented with an award from Bishop Patrick Walsh.

Fr McCafferty said "up until a few months ago, Billy was still at Mass every week".

"He walked in straight and tall and was active until very recently when his health began to decline," he said.

"He did tremendous work in the Church, which saw him receive the Benemerenti, which is Latin for well deserved, a medal awarded by the Holy Father for outstanding service to the local or universal Church.

"Billy certainly gave exceptional and noteworthy service to our local parish community of Corpus Christi for many years.

"He was a man of the Church, a great man and his death is a big loss to the parish."

Requiem Mass for Mr Burns will take place in Corpus Christi Church tomorrow at 11am followed by burial in Milltown Cemetery.

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