A Catholic bishop who supported Northern Ireland and counted goalkeeper Harry Gregg among his friends could have been a “special diplomat of peace and reconciliation during the reconstruction of Casement Park”, his funeral has been told.
The Requiem Mass for Bishop Anthony Farquhar (83), who died peacefully in the Nazareth Care Village last Friday, was held at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Belfast yesterday (Thursday 23rd November).
A message from Pope Francis expressing condolences was read out at the funeral, which heard that Bishop Farquhar used sport to communicate the gospel “in his own unique way”.
Canon Patrick McKenna told mourners including Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin and Cardinal Sean Brady that his friend influenced the lives of thousands of people in Down and Connor, especially the 90,000 parishioners he confirmed.
“His one message to confirmandi (was) ‘Never give up on your dreams’, advice inspired by his great friend Harry Gregg,” he said, referring to the Manchester United star who pulled several teammates from a burning plane in the 1958 Munich air disaster.
Canon McKenna continued: “He would mention the words on his Coat of Arms, Sapientia Proficere, (meaning) to increase in wisdom.”
Leaders from Protestant denominations including Church of Ireland Archbishop John McDowell, Clerk of the Presbyterian Church Rev Trevor Gribben and head of the Methodist Church Rev David Turtle also attended.
They heard how Bishop Farquhar maintained his interests in golf, GAA and soccer after being ordained as an auxiliary bishop of Down and Connor in the 1980s — a position he held for more than 30 years.
“He had a special allegiance as president of the QUB Football Club, a loyal supporter during the Collingwood Cup Competition,” Fr McKenna said.
“He had strong links with Dundela and a lifelong friendship with the legendary Dundela manager, the late Mervyn Bell.
“He would often go to Windsor Park to support Northern Ireland team. He could have been a special diplomat of peace and reconciliation during the reconstruction of Casement Park.”
The clergyman joked the late bishop “unbeknownst to the Scottish FA” served as the unofficial spiritual director of Dundee United, “where he was treated with tremendous deference”.
“It was through sport he got to know and love so many young people,” Fr McKenna said.
“Through sport, in his own unique way, he communicated the good news of salvation.”
The former St Malachy’s College pupil studied philosophy and classics at Queen’s University in 1950s before graduating from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.
His first appointment after being ordained in March 1965 was in the parish of Ardglass.
The former lecturer and chaplain also taught Latin, Greek and religion at St MacNissi’s College.
Bishop Donal McKeown, his former pupil and the chief celebrant at the funeral, said while Bishop Farquhar had “a tiny family circle of one sister”, he was “loved and cherished by many”.
“A blood relation of few, he became a family friend to very many,” he added.
Bishop Farquhar was buried in the adjoining cemetery following the service.