HUNDREDS of people gathered for a special service to celebrate the life of a much-loved Greenock priest who was devoted to his parishioners both at home and in his adopted country of Chile.

Tributes have flooded in for Father Neil Sharp, who grew up in Greenock's east end, following his death last week after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

Bishop John Keenan led a moving Requiem Mass in St Ninian's Gourock, delivering a beautiful homily that spoke to all those who loved Father Neil.

Attendees were joined by priests as well as family, friends and those who remembered him from his time at St Mungo's and St Patrick's in Greenock.

Greenock Telegraph: Father Neil Sharp with his brother Father Jim and his gran on his ordination. d his Father Neil Sharp with his brother Father Jim and his gran on his ordination. d his (Image: contributed)

His beloved brother Father Jim Sharp and hundreds more joined the mass via a livestream in Arica in Chile, where the Greenock man passed away at the age of 78.

Father Neil travelled with his brother to serve in Chile 45 years ago,  during the military dictatorship of Pinochet, finding ways to help the people, and he remained there for the rest of his life.

Bishop John Keenan said: "In life and ministry, Neil was known for his love of life and sense of fun, with an infectious laugh that could reach to the uproarious when the three Sharp brothers got together.   

"And yet countless, too, are the stories of how he turned lives around by sharing his joy of life and revealing to lost souls their wealth of talent even in their direst straits.

"A true man of God, evident in all that he said and did.  The world over is a better place because Father Neil Sharp lived in it."

Greenock Telegraph: Father Neil Sharp

In 1979 Father Neil and his brother Father Jim went together to Chile, where they found people to be living in fear of Pinochet and his regime.

Bishop Keenan said: "This was during the Pinochet dictatorship in which the Church was the only place you could speak even mild criticism. 

"To say the poor had rights was to be a communist. But the bishops were strong, and the Sharp brothers found that a wee bit of persecution did the Church no harm and focussed attention on basics.  

"Throughout it all the ups and downs, Neil remained contented in his priesthood and peaceful in his ministry.  

"Schooled in the Saint Mungo experience of authentic religion, Father Neil saw Arica as the Gibshill of his altar boy years and tried to build it up with real religion and no frills. "

In Aria, Father Neil took his love of God and his ministry into the prisons and hospitals.

Bishop John added: "He was well received by the people and formed a rapport with them; they took to him and liked him, feeling he was interested in them, and he responded to that."

Father Neil set up a monthly magazine and embraced technology and was popular on the radio.

But he never lost touch or his love of home and remained very much part of the Paisley Diocese.

Father Neil Sharp, or Padre Andrés Sharp Langan, to give him his Arican title, was born in the east end of Greenock in November 1945, the third child of six to Ellen and Neily Sharp, and was baptised and raised in the St Mungo’s parish.

His life of service began as an altar boy and culminated in his ordination to the priesthood at his church in 1970 after studying at St Peter's Seminary in Cardross.

Father Neil was then Curate at St Margaret’s in Johnstone from 1970 to 1974, then in St Patrick’s in Greenock from 1974 to 1978.

Father Neil is remembered for his love of life, his love of football and as a life long supporter of Greenock Morton.

At school his family recall he was a champion bogie maker and used to love the rough and tumble of life in the east end. 

In 2010, he developed Parkinson’s which remained manageable until 2017 when, after a knee operation, he felt a gradual slide. 

At the beginning of the year, the disease finally took its toll and he died peacefully in the home of the Little Sisters in Arica on May 3 with his funeral a day later in St Mark's Cathedral in Arica, Chile.

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Following his death many people who remembered his time in local parishes, friends and family paid tribute to him, calling him an 'inspiration' in their own lives.

At his Requiem Mass in St Ninian's Gourock, his sister Betty gave a greeting in Spanish at the end of Mass, which was then played on the morning programme on Radio Montecarmelo de Arica.

Greenock Telegraph: Father Neil Sharp

Afterwards she said: "I would really like to say is thank you to Bishop John and Bishop Moses of the Arican diocese, all the clergy and friends who have expressed their sympathy. 

"He was a wonderful priest and man and it was a privilege to be his sister."