HUNDREDS of people travelled from all over Ireland yesterday to show their support for Father Brian D'Arcy as the cleric admitted to initially thinking he would have to leave the priesthood.
More than 1,000 people attended midday Mass at the Passionist Monastery near Enniskillen and heard the priest apologise to them for the furore over the Vatican move to censor his views.
Fr D'Arcy got a standing ovation from the congregation in St Gabriel's Chapel as he managed to make light of the controversy.
"It has been a terrible weekend for me," he said before adding quickly: "Fermanagh were beaten at Croke Park yesterday."
The priest had travelled to Croke Park on Saturday to watch his home county lose the Division 4 gaelic football league final to Wicklow.
After the game, when he went to commiserate with the Erne county team in the dressing room, Fermanagh forward Seamus Quigley quipped: "You're censored, Father. You can't say anything."
Yesterday, away from the media spotlight which has been part of his life as a Passionist priest, Fr D'Arcy was very much on home ground doing what he does for 99pc of his time -- ministering to people.
People queued to shake his hand and whisper support into his ear.
Among them was Katherine McDermott from Mallow in Co Cork.
"His Mass was lovely and it was a privilege to be here," she said. "We wanted to show him our support because he is a good priest and he's doing a good job."
Peter Hogan, also from Mallow, added: "You could come here every day to listen to him.
"I think what has happened to him is a disgrace. Simple as that."
They were joined by worshippers from Dublin, Belfast, Donegal, Galway and Mayo as well as from around the local area.
Monica McDonnell from Enniskillen said: "We are here to support Fr Brian because people outside of here don't see all the wonderful work he does in this community.
"We see him at death beds and in the hospitals making a real difference for people. If anyone has any problem they can come and see him. That's who he is."
Her friend Carmel Rooney added: "He said himself that he is a priest of good standing and that's exactly what he is -- a very good priest."
Fr D'Arcy's ecumenical and peace work may have gone largely unnoticed outside of Fermanagh, but its fruits could be seen yesterday as several members of the local Anglican community attended the Mass.
Among those greeting him were local young parents and their children -- and one teenager who gave him a 'high five'.
Afterwards in the monastery he shares with four other Passionist clerics, the priest himself admitted that he thought his vocation was over when he was first told of the Vatican's move to silence him.
"I was contacted by the head of my order in Rome and he had been called in by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and told that I had been involved in scandals in my writings for the 'Sunday World,'" he told the Irish Independent.
"I was very hurt by it for it was a pretty brutal way of dealing with someone and at that moment I thought I'd have to leave the church; that this was the end of my time as a priest."
He said he told both the BBC and the Sunday newspaper about getting the edict from Rome 14 months ago but had never submitted any material to the CDF since.
"I think that this is really about any criticisms I may have made clear about how the church has handled the issue of clerical sexual abuse and how some of the blame for that lies with Rome.
"I will not stop addressing this issue, however. As someone who was abused, it would be wrong for me as person and as a priest to stay silent,'' he said.
"Silence on child abuse leads to more child abuse and I will not be a part of that," he added.
His writings and views on radio would continue.
He believes there is room in the church for them.
It will be two years today since the RTE Radio 2 presenter Gerry Ryan died.
Fr D'Arcy will travel to Dublin to be with his family and friends and lead them in prayers in his memory. There will be the inevitable media glare.
But yesterday after the Mass in Enniskillen, one close friend remarked: "Tell your readers in the Irish Independent to ask 'who leaked this story to the Catholic Church-run newspaper 'The Tablet?'.
" Brian said nothing about this for 14 months yet it was the church which leaked this to their own media. It was they who put this in the spotlight, not Fr Brian."