25 December 2005

Mass held outside closed church


St Joseph's was closed in 2001

People campaigning for the reopening of a north Belfast church have celebrated Christmas on the street with a Mass outside St Joseph's in Sailortown.

The church was closed in February 2001 by the Catholic Bishop of Down and Connor, but services have been held every Sunday since.

Organisers said 150 attended the Mass, celebrated by Father Des Wilson.

Gerry Gallagher of the Save St Joseph's Campaign said the congregation had bonded despite adversity.

"It may seem strange to some people that we are having a Mass of celebration, given the fact that our church remains closed, but we have much to celebrate and there are few better days to do so than Christmas itself," he said.

"St Joseph's has been the spiritual heart of Sailortown for more than 130 years and was bought and paid for by the people of this area.

"We are simply asking for what is ours by right."

St Joseph's is a grade B listed building and under the protection of the Department of the Environment, but urgent repairs are needed if it is to survive yet another winter.

Mr Gallagher said: "The Catholic Church and the statutory body concerned have an obligation to maintain this church and we are calling on both to fulfil those duties and to do so publicly."

In 2001, the Catholic Church said the church near Belfast docks had to close because there was no longer a sustainable local community in the Sailortown area.

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