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Parishioners launch campaign to save Belleek village chapel

September 1, 2014

By Christine Keighery

A public campaign led by parishioners from the Whitecross (Loughgilly) parish has been launched in opposition to the proposed closure of the Catholic Church in Belleek, The Examiner has learned.

It has emerged that the St. Laurence O’Toole’s Church in the village is under threat of closure, a move that has prompted an angry reaction from residents who fear for the future of the close-knit rural community.

In opposition to the proposal by the Archdiocese of Armagh, a public meeting is scheduled to take place this Thursday 4th September.

The meeting, organised by the Belleek Community Regeneration Group is the latest in a series of meetings they have facilitated to discuss the issue and is a bid to rally support against the closure of the chapel, which has been an important focal point in Belleeks for more than 160 years.

Speaking to The Examiner about the “grave concerns” of local residents regarding the imminent closure of the chapel, a spokesperson from the Belleek Community Regeneration Group said,

“In Belleek village, a small rural area, St. Laurence O Toole’s Chapel has been the cornerstone of the community for 165 years. The Chapel has been the focal point for many families to celebrate the sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Matrimony and attend the funerals of their loved ones who now rest in the adjoining cemetery.    “Its location in the centre of the village is important to these families and the pupils of the local school, allowing them to attend masses regularly and visit the chapel  on a daily basis to pray.

“The lack of communication between parishioners and the Church is a major frustration as the whole community want to engage with our Parish Priest and Cardinal to discuss the way forward, but to date have not been afforded this opportunity, although we are awaiting a response from the Cardinal in early September on consultation proposed.

“The community have demonstrated their willingness to accommodate the needs of the local church in accepting a reduction of the weekly Sunday mass to fortnightly basis for July and August to facilitate holidays on the assurance that the normal masses would resume in September. It is particularly upsetting that this promise has been reneged on  without consultation and the reduction in masses for the parishioners is now a permanent feature of parish life in Belleek.”

The spokesperson encouraged all with an interest and who care about preserving “one of the most important aspects of Belleek community life” to attend the next public meeting scheduled for 4 September 2014 at 8pm in St. Laurence O’Toole School, Belleek.

The group are also calling on concerned parishioners to sign an online petition which has been launched in the fight to keep the chapel open.  The petition which appears on change.org has drummed up significant support with over 100 signatures received so far.

With the issue striking a chord throughout the village, some parishioners who have taken to social media to share the petition and spread the campaign to keep the local place of worship open. One supporter of the campaign made an impassioned plea against the proposed closure of the Church she describes as “at the heart of the community” and said its closure “simply does not make sense.”

Another campaign supporter, Patsy Finnegan, has also been urging concerned residents to voice their objections to the closure by signing and sharing the petition which appears on the Club Belleeks GAC Facebook page on behalf of the Belleek Football Club and the Regeneration Group.

The general consensus among parishioners is that, in addition to its proposal to close Belleek Chapel, the diocese is also proposing to close the remaining 3 churches in the Parish of Loughgilly, Tullyherron, Drumilly and Ballymoyer in favour of building a bigger church in Whitecross.

Mr Finnegan said the decision to close the chapel and those of the other 3 parishes was “unacceptable” to the residents of Belleek and regular church goers in the area.

Berating the decision, Mr Finnegan said,

“Those high up in the Church circles, want to close the four chapels in the Parish, and build one in Whitecross, that will cater for all of the Parishioners. We in Belleek, at least, are asking them to rethink their plans,” he added, warning that the closure of the chapel could turn the village into a “ghost town” and questioning what would become of the recently revamped graveyard and the church buildings once they are closed.

To sign the petition to keep St. Laurence O’Toole’s Church open, please visit https://www.change.org/p/belleek-chapel-keep-belleek-chapel-open

The Examiner contacted the Parochial House for comment, but a man who answered the phone and did not introduce himself, abruptly ended the call, advising that there would be no comment made on the issue.

At the time of going to press, we were also awaiting a response from the Head of Communications at the Armagh Diocesan Office.

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