By: Clare Grant
Motherwell and Bellshill’s Catholic congregations are up in arms over the bombshell announcement that Carfin Pilgrim Centre will close on September 30.
The shock news materialised as a done deal on the Diocese of Motherwell Facebook last Tuesday evening – sparking complaints in regard to a lack of any consultation.
The nature of the announcement itself has drawn criticism amidst claims that it was left up to younger members of the congregation to break the news to older relatives who do not use computers.
The wording of that controversial announcement was attributed to Bishop Joseph Toal, who has been accused of a lack of engagement with shellshocked worshippers.
He had stated that the cash was no longer available to pay for the centre and that funding could not continue.
This led to an outcry which saw this newspaper inundated with complaints when we broke the story on our own website.
Several days later the diocese agreed to release a more detailed statement to the Times & Speaker in regard to this controversial decision.
A diocesan spokesperson said: “It was with great sadness that the Diocese of Motherwell took the decision to close the pilgrimage centre. The staff have been dedicated and professional and the centre has been a wonderful resource, but far too few people have visited it and spent enough to make it economically viable.
“The Pilgrimage Centre has been run as a limited company with its own board of directors. Unfortunately, as its losses show no sign of improving, it continues to cost the diocese a substantial amount of money. If all those commenting on this difficult situation had themselves spent regularly on the goods and services offered by the centre and encouraged others to do the same, its future may have been different.
“This summer, only one third of Motherwell parishes arranged a parish day at the Grotto. This sad lack of support in the diocese for the centre is the reality we face. Ultimately the diocese has a responsibility to all its parishes and it simply cannot justify the continued substantial subsidies which the centre requires.
“Letters were sent to all parishes this week to allow the news to be included in parish bulletins this weekend. The diocese has no current plans for the building or land.”
The diocese also thanked centre staff – 11 of whom will now lose their jobs as a consequence
Yet that has failed to quell the uproar that has resulted – with no U-turn from the church in sight.
An online petition has been organised by Marie Taggart from Motherwell, which now bears more than 5000 signatures She said: “I was so shocked when I heard and I just cannot I felt I had to do something.
“They’re telling people to go to mass and this place is bringing them closer to God now they are shutting it. What message does that send out? What are they going to do next? Shut the grotto? Where is this going to end?”
It emerges too that complaints have reached as far as the Vatican after Bellshill man John Paul Quinn took the step of writing to the ‘head of the house’ – Pope Francis.
He said: “I’d say that 90 per cent of the Motherwell Diocese parishes had no idea this was coming, and believe it’s an outrage.
“When the diocese realised the centre was trouble, Bishop Toal never once went out to the parishes – and there are more than 60 of them – to ask for help.
“Normally when part of the diocese is struggling, the first thing the bishop does is to alert the parishes and second collections are organised.
“If it came down to just money, these parishes and the businesses in the area would have easily got involved, as this centre is more of a community hub than just simple a shop and somewhere for a meal and a coffee.”
That was reinforced by centre manager Margaret McGuigan, who said that she could not accept the explanations made by the diocese.
She added: “I won’t say this was entirely unexpected but we are devastated. This decision is detrimental to everyone who uses the grotto itself.
“This centre is an extension to the whole experience of visiting the grotto and visitor have a right to use our cafe and toilets.
“So far this year we have had groups in from Canada, America, Italy – this place is for the world. It is a national shrine but more importantly you cannot put a price on this – our door is open to everyone.
“We cater for a lot of people in society who are marginalised.
“They may be of our faith, another faith or have no faith. Society needs a place like this where people can find tranquility. Here they can find a haven and some company.
“Where are they going to go now?”