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1-MASS

Unshakeable Faith from Young Catholic Scots helps overcome cancelled mass woes

Storm Hector brings out the best in Catholic community spirit as cluster schools celebrate the Eucharist despite setback - By Amanda Connelly and Ryan McDougall

Storm Hector couldn’t shake the Faith of thousands of Scotland’s Catholic pupils last week as impromptu Masses were held across the country after the National Schools Mass was ­cancelled due to high winds and transport chaos.

Schools up and down the country had begun travelling to the National Schools Mass in Falkirk ­Stadium on June 14, to celebrate the centenary of the 1918 Education (Scotland) Act, which saw Catholic schools brought into the state sector.

But with the Met Office issuing a yellow weather warning and wind speeds reaching over 100mph in some areas, the decision was made to cancel the Mass, which would have seen more than 8,000 youngsters take part.

However, it failed to dampen the spirits of schools across the dioceses, as they took to school halls, oratories and local churches to celebrate Mass in their own communities.

Barbara Coupar, director of the ­Scottish Catholic Education Service (SCES)—who organised the Mass alongside the National Liturgy ­Commission—noted that they were ‘devastated’ that they had to make that ‘tough decision,’ to cancel the Mass on safety grounds, but said the young Catholics’ determined Faith illustrated what the national event was all about.

“The unexpected consequence of the [cancellation] has been seen around the country as people thought of creative and innovative ways to actually come together to pray, to ­celebrate the Eucharist, and to really put into place what the national event was actually about—solidarity and about marking what a Faith ­community actually is,” she said.

“What we’ve been struck by, is that nearly every cluster didn’t just kind of go ‘aw, we’re just going back to class as normal,’ they decided, ‘we’re here for a reason, so let’s do something together.’ So that’s been quite ­humbling.

“We’ve been overwhelmed by the messages of support that have come in from schools, parishes, parents, all of our bishops, just really supporting us in having to make that tough ­decision,” she added. “We’re absolutely sure that God has a bigger plan for something better for Catholic ­education.”

In Glasgow Archdiocese, a number of schools ploughed on to host Masses with their cluster groups and continue the centenary celebrations regardless.

St Clare’s, St Ninian’s, Corpus Christi, St Brendan’s and St Paul’s ­primary schools joined with St Thomas Aquinas’ High School in Glasgow, where they had a school banner parade and a prayer breakfast.

St Thomas Aquinas’ RE teacher Andrew Fitzhenry said the schools ‘made the best of a bad situation,’ and that the cancellation meant that the whole school could get involved in the banner parade, as opposed to the few pupils who were set to attend the national Mass.

He added: “At first, when we told them it was cancelled due to health and safety they were genuinely ­disappointed which we could ­appreciate, so we thought: ‘let’s do this as a community.’

“So they held a wee banner parade at the school and prayed for the folk up in Falkirk, and a couple of the ­primary school headteachers actually said it was really good and that we should consider doing it again. So in the end, the banner still got put to good use, and the kids all got something from it.”

Mr Fitzhenry joked that if the National Mass is cancelled again, ­perhaps a Skype Mass could be held instead.

Meanwhile St Monica’s Primary School in Pollok gathered at St Andrew’s Cathedral for Mass. “National Mass cancelled but that didn’t stop our pupils attending Mass at St Andrew’s Cathedral,” they said. “Wind, rain or shine we’re committed to our Faith!”

In Motherwell Diocese, the day was ‘not quite as planned’ for St Maurice’s High School, but they enjoyed a lovely’ cluster Mass celebrated by Frs Joseph Sullivan and Michael Briody.

They were joined by St Helen’s, St Michael’s, St Patrick’s and Holy Cross primary schools, with Mass followed by an indoor picnic.

Fr Briody explained that the ­last-minute Mass held in the school was an example of the capability of Catholic education. He said: “It all came together. Pupils volunteered to do readings and to help out. It’s good to see what could be done at very short notice.

It was an object lesson on the ­benefit of having Catholic schools—a great example of it in practice. All credit goes to the teachers and pupils for being able to do it.”

In Airdrie, St Margaret’s High School took part in Mass in the school’s oratory, ­celebrated by Fr Raymond Breslin, with St Dominic’s and St Edward’s ­primaries present.

“Although we didn’t make it to the National Mass today we still celebrated Mass as a ­community of Faith and ­learning,” the school wrote on ­Twitter, and the cluster were one of many schools praised by Mrs Coupar for ‘showing how a Faith community comes together in times of adversity.’

St John’s High School in Dundee, which is part of Dunkeld Diocese, had a banner for the national Mass, which pupils had spent the year ­making. “We’ll have it for the next 100 years of Catholic ­education!” they said.

Josephine Hughes, SCES’ religious education adviser, said they are in talks to hold simultaneous events across the eight dioceses in future, although the idea is still in its infancy.

She explained: “I think when we had to cancel [the national Mass] we were so disappointed and it was really only once schools started ­sending in pictures we were inspired, and felt there was some kind of appetite for a ­celebration. We’re really trying to build on what the school ­communities did, and the ­variety of events held.

“Hopefully what comes out of this is for simultaneous events established across the eight dioceses in future.

“There is a lesson here, because while I think we were obviously devastated and caught up in the practicalities of the situation, schools were very imaginative in what they did to salvage it.

“I think that given the point of the national Mass was to mark the centenary and success of Catholic schools and how they are good for Scotland, it really showed how these ­communities came together and if anything that’s what SCES is about. Hopefully we can come up with an idea so we can ­capture the lightening and turn it into something great.”

Former SCES director Michael McGrath also joined local schools who turned back from Falkirk, where they ­celebrated Mass with Frs Frank Dougan and Patrick Hennessy at St Mark’s Church in ­Rutherglen.

Fr Hennessy said: “We invited all the schools up and had a nice Mass, they were all very happy. They would have been ­disheartened if they’d just been sent back to school, but we mixed all the pupils from the schools up, so they made new friends too.

Fr Hennessy added that those who had worked to make Catholic schools a part of ­­­­­ state-funded education in ­Scotland would be ‘very happy’ with the day’s outcome, despite the ­cancelation of the National Mass.

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