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Bishop Brian McGee of Argyll and the Isles Diocese travelled to Glenuig recently to help celebrate mass and pay tribute to those who kept the Catholic faith alive in the Highlands amid persecution, poverty and famine.
Mass was celebrated in St Agnes’ Church in Glenuig to mark 250 years of the Moidart Mission.
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.
Father Austin ‘Uisdean’ MacDonald was appointed to the newly-created Moidart Mission in 1769.
Father 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 as a result of outlawing of the Catholic faith.
A quarter of a millennia later, Catholics gathered in St Agnes’ to reflect on the history of the Moidart Mission.
‘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, so there was quite a flourishing of the faith despite all the bigotry and poverty.’
As Catholicism was illegal when the 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’.
The bishop continued: ‘It is both humbling and uplifting to recognise 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.’
Frances MacLean, a parishioner who helped organise the 250th event, said the anniversary celebration was ‘great’ and commented on the struggles faced by Catholics when the mission was founded.
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.
Events will conclude on Wednesday October 2, the Feast of the Guardian Angels, at Our Lady of the Angels Church, Mingarry.
Thanks go to the Scottish Catholic Observer for its assistance with this story.
Bishop Brian McGee of Argyll and the Isles Diocese, far right, celebrated Mass in St Agnes’ Church, Glenuig, to mark 250 years of the Moidart Mission. Photograph: Anthony MacMillan Photography.
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