On Thursday, 5 March, Papal Nuncio, Archbishop Charles Brown, will celebrate Mass with the priests, people and friends of Saint Patrick’s Parish, Belfast. The Mass will mark the 200th anniversary of the Parish.
For 200 years, Saint Patrick’s has faithfully provided for the spiritual and pastoral needs of the people of inner-city Belfast, as well as workers and visitors to one of Ireland’s principal cities. It has also played a significant role in the Diocese of Down and Connor, hosting the episcopal consecration of a number its bishops.
Saint Patrick’s follows in a long and noble Christian tradition within the City, tracing its roots to the most ancient foundations of the Faith in this part of Ireland. Its origins are first recorded in the 1306 Taxation of Pope Nicholas. It has also served as a beacon of light for the people of Belfast during some of the City’s darkest and most troubled years.
The present Church is an imposing edifice, rendered in sandstone and in the Romanesque style. Its treasury boasts artifacts of international significance, chief among them a relic of St Patrick’s arm, enshrined in a medieval silver reliquary. It also has a triptych altarpiece entitled ‘Madonna of the Lakes’ painted by Sir John Lavery, himself a native of the Parish.
A number of events are planned to mark the Parish’s bicentenary. On 9 March, noted historian, Professor Eamon Pheonix, will deliver a lecture on the Parish’s place in the history of Belfast in City Hall. On the eve of Saint Patrick’s Day, the Parish will host a Gala Ball in Titanic Belfast. It is hoped the event will raise much needed funds to restore the Church’s stonework. A Mission will be given by one of the Church’s newest orders, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, in early March. Throughout Lent, global Catholic television network, EWTN, is broadcasting Scripture reflections given by priests associated with the Parish. On 20 April, the Parish will host an exhibition and lecture on the life and works of one of its celebrated sons, artist Sir John Lavery. The year of celebration will conclude with a Parish Pilgrimage to Rome in October, and an audience with Pope Francis.
The highlight of the bicentenary celebrations is undoubtedly the Jubilee Mass on 5 March. Parish Administrator, Father Michael Sheehan remarked: ‘we are deeply honoured that Pope Francis’ representative in Ireland should join us for this very special milestone in the life of our Parish.’ Commenting on the Church’s anniversary, Father Michael said: ‘whilst this year provides us with an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate our past achievements, we also look forward to building on these to ensure that St. Patrick’s continues to be a place where future generations encounter Christ.’