THE head of the Roman Catholic Church helped a North-East congregation celebrate a major milestone today (Friday, January 17).

Pope Francis sent a papal blessing to St William’s Roman Catholic Church in Trimdon Village, near Sedgefield, County Durham, to mark its 150th anniversary.

Children from St William’s RC Primary School presented the blessing on the Pope’s behalf during a commemorative mass led by parish priest, Father Shaun Swales.

Fr Swales said the blessing had made the service even more poignant.

“It is also nice to have the blessing of the Pope,” he said. “He is the leader of our church and it is very important for us to have this personal contact.

“It was also wonderful to have the children involved. The school was originally based here and retains strong links with the church.”

Kate Ellis, headteacher at St William’s RC Primary, said it had been a great honour to play a part in the service.

“We come to the church every week and the children feel very comfortable here,” she said.

“It is part of our heritage and it means a lot to us to be involved in the celebrations.”

The service was preceded by the unveiling of a plaque listing the names of all the priests who have served the parish from the 1860s onwards.

Fr Swales said there was a rich history of Catholicism in the Trimdon area, with many residents sticking to their faith after the reformation and the establishment of the Church of England in the 16th century.

“It is wonderful to be able to celebrate this heritage and come together as a community,” he added.

The church has put together a year-long programme of events to mark the anniversary, including a concert by a male voice choir and a pilgrimage to York to see St William’s tomb.

Trimdon and Thornley councillor Peter Brookes, who is chairman of 150th anniversary committee, said: “A lot of people have worked very hard to plan these celebrations. I am sure it will be a year to remember.

“There is something very special about gathering together to remember our Catholic forefathers.”