BY Ryan McDougall | June 14 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Bishop pays tribute to ‘real heroes’ who kept the Catholic Faith alive

Mass was celebrated in a remote village in the Highlands of Scotland last week to pay tribute to those who kept the Catholic Faith alive amid persecution, poverty and famine.

Bishop Brian McGee of Argyll & the Isles Diocese celebrated Mass in St Agnes’ Church in the small village of Glenuig to mark 250 years of the Moidart Mission.

Moidart is a remote area west of Fort William. After the Reformation, the Catholic Faith survived in the area thanks to the endeavours of occasional missionaries and the deep Faith of the laity, especially within families.


Catholic community

In 1769, Fr Austin ‘Uisdean’ MacDonald was appointed to the newly created Moidart Mission.

Fr MacDonald walked through the mountains of Moidart in all weathers bringing together small communities for prayer and catechesis, despite a wider culture of intolerance towards Catholicism.

Mass centres were built for the 1,200 Catholics in the area, though they were not regarded as churches due to outlawing of the Catholic Faith.

A quarter of a millennia later, Catholics gathered in St Agnes’ to reflect on the history of Moidart Mission.


Flourishing Faith

“After the Reformation, Mass was illegal so there were no [Catholic] churches, but after the priest was appointed within three years he had built three Mass centres,” Bishop McGee said following the Mass.

“Three Catholic primary schools were later opened as well, so there was quite a flourishing of the Faith despite all the bigotry and poverty.”

As Catholicism was illegal when Moidart Mission was born, Catholics would gather in secret with a priest to celebrate Mass around Mass stones or rocks, which were often taken directly from church ruins and placed in isolated areas.



In his homily, Bishop McGee remembered the Catholics from the Moidart area as ‘real heroes’ that ‘loved Christ and His Church so much that they were willing to lose everything for God.’

He drew parallels between the first clergy of the mission and St Paul in terms of their love and commitment to Christ.

“In tonight’s First Reading we heard of Paul journeying to Jerusalem where, like Christ, he would be rejected and imprisoned and it was intended that he be killed,” he told a congregation of around 70 people.



He added that ‘we can easily dwell too much on the struggles we face today as if we were the first disciples to suffer.’

The bishop continued: “Many powerful forces and circumstances made the success of the Mission seem unlikely.

“It is both humbling and uplifting to recognise that the Moidart Mission not only survived but positively blossomed against a background of poverty, religious intolerance, political distrust by civil authorities for Jacobite areas, famine and enforced evictions.

“We must never underestimate what God can achieve through those who cooperate with his grace. Just as the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus sent Fr MacDonald into Moidart 250 years ago and he sends us today! We are to continue the ministry of Jesus within the Peninsula and beyond.”



Frances MacLean, a parishioner who helped organise the 250th, said the anniversary celebration was ‘great’ and commented on the struggles faced by Catholics when the mission was founded.

“We think we are hard done by at the moment, but these people had a real mountain to climb,” she said.

Celebrations are to continue throughout the year as parishioners at St Agnes’ and beyond meet throughout the summer and autumn at places associated with the mission, including Egnaig, Briag, Port an Dun and St Finnan’s Isle.

The festivities will be concluded on Wednesday October 2, the Feast of the Guardian Angels, at Our Lady of the Angels Church, Mingarry.


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