I WAS stunned when I heard that the visitor centre attached to Scotland's National Shrine to Our Lady is to close its doors at the end of September. For many years now, that shrine, known locally as Carfin Grotto, has been a centre of pilgrimage and is valued and respected as such not just by Catholics but by people of all faiths and none. To this day, it attracts thousands of visitors from across the UK and indeed from across the world.

Those who know the story of how the Grotto itself came to be constructed, will be well aware of the remarkable drive of a local priest, Father Thomas (later, Canon) Taylor, first in promoting the case for sainthood of St Therese of Lisieux and then in employing out-of-work miners back in 1920 to commence the building of a shrine in the local pit village of Carfin in honour both of Our Lady of Lourdes and, a few years later, of Therese, that much-loved saint, when she was canonised in 1925. If the people of the area could not afford to visit the French towns of Lourdes or Lisieux, said the Canon, then perhaps the spirit of faith of Lourdes and Lisieux could be recreated in the mining village of Carfin. And so indeed it was. And continues to be.

Housing an exhibition gallery, a cafeteria and book/gift shop and meeting areas, the Pilgrimage Centre attached to the Grotto was opened by Cardinal Tom Winning in 1996, providing a beautiful complimentary facility for pilgrims visiting the much-loved Shrine. I well remember the various outstanding donations made by parents and pupils of schools in the area towards the development of the centre. As head teacher of Taylor High School at that time, I was especially proud of one of our pupils who executed a fine portrait of the Canon and presented it to the centre.

I am not privy to the issues or the financial pressures that have presumably contributed to the sad decision to close a centre that has contributed so much to the overall experience of visiting the National Shrine. But whatever the pressures that have fallen, either on the local parish of St Francis Xavier or the Diocese of Motherwell, in maintaining the centre, it is to be hoped that the Bishops Conference of Scotland and, indeed, Scotland's Catholics in general will be willing to rally round and contribute to the saving of a facility of which they can be so justly proud. It would be a sad irony indeed if, within weeks of hosting the impending arrival in Scotland of the relics of St Therese, and within a year of the 100th anniversary of the cutting of the first sod of the Grotto, such a closure were to go through.

Richard Lynas, Glasgow G44.