Bishop Treanor reopens the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Rathlin island

26 Mar 2017

“Sixty years later [after the signing of the Treaty of Rome] … we stand in urgent need of that same political ingenuity and restorative faith in humanity at local level here in Northern Ireland” – Bishop Treanor

Extract from the homily

As we re-open this Church we are mindful that this historic and island congregation, like our local Church in this diocese of Down and Connor, constitutes a living cell of the universal Church.  We are a living cell of the family of peoples who make up the Church and the entire Christian people throughout the world and in the continuum of human history.

Here on Rathlin throughout the centuries, parishioners have gathered in prayer and worship and thus were enlivened and renewed in faith and grace, as we are in our time by celebrating the sacred liturgy, the sacraments and taking part in popular devotions, such as pilgrimages.

Oral tradition and records recall that the people of Rathlin met for Mass in various locations, including in the shade of an overhanging rock at Ballynagarad, at a large stone in Kilpatrick, in a hollow called Lag an Sassanach and in this spot, the site of an old mill purchased by a Mr Alexander McDonnell in or around 1816 and converted into a Church which was replaced by this present structure opened and dedicated by Bishop Patrick Dorrian in 1865 and renovated in 1989.

As part of that global mosaic, each local constituent reflecting the particularities of local culture, history and identity, we all have a shared responsibility for the vitality and concrete impact of the gospel, its values and vision, in our time.

At the same time, no man is an island! And for all the lore concerning the Charybdis Brecani, Sloch na mara, the conflux of the different seas on Rathlin’s shores, that have made access difficult, today Rathlin, like ourselves, is part of a world and of a society which, for all the achievements of modernity, is now searching for, indeed sometimes screaming for, ultimate meaning, purpose and hope.  Living in the world-wide-web we cannot escape the questions and challenges of human existence in our times. 

This weekend marks the sixtieth anniversary of the treaty of Rome and the signing of the treaties which instituted the European Economic Community and the European Atomic Energy Community. These treaties marked a step taken by courageous political leaders, keenly aware of the risk of the trust they made in each other as former enemies, yet imbued with a steely determination to forge together the common good for generations to come. Of their initiative, when speaking to the Heads of State and Government of the Member States of the European Union on Friday past, 24 March 2017, Pope Francis said:

“I have devoted this first part of my talk to the founding fathers of Europe, so that we can be challenged by their words, the timeliness of their thinking, their impassioned pursuit of the common good, their certainty of sharing in a work greater than themselves, and the breadth of the ideals that inspired them. Their common denominator was the spirit of service, joined to passion for politics and the consciousness that “at the origin of European civilisation there is Christianity”, without which the Western values of dignity, freedom and justice would prove largely incomprehensible …. ”[1]   

Today, sixty years later in the ebb and flow of human history and of our civilisation and societies movements, we stand in urgent need of that same political ingenuity and restorative faith in humanity at local level here in Northern Ireland, in Europe at the level of our weakened institutions of global governance.

Today we pray that this Church, now repaired and renewed, will continue to offer an oasis where thirst of God and knowledge of Jesus Christ and faith-inspired contribution to society will grow and be fostered.


[1] Pope Francis Address to the Heads of State and Government of the European Union, Friday, 24 March 2017. Reference (12) is a citation from Alcide De Gasperi, La nostra patria Europa, Address to the European Parliamentary Conference, 21 April, 1954, in A De Gasperi e la politica internazionale, Cinque Lune, Roma, 1990, vol III, 437 440.

  • This is an extract from the homily of Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down & Connor, which was delivered at Mass to mark the re-opening of the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Rathlin island, Co Antrim on Sunday 26 March.