New Zealand's Diocese of Christchurch has operated an Antarctic Ministry at McMurdo Station, the largest community in Antarctica, since November 1957. But a declining numbers of churchgoers has brought the program to an end. “There is a gradual decrease in religiosity, there is also a decrease in the number of people working at McMurdo Station and the South Pole and budget cuts so all of these factors have led to the decision that only one chaplain is necessary,” Fr. Dan Doyle, who coordinates the diocese's Antarctic ministry, told Radio New Zealand July 26. McMurdo Station is a US research center on Ross Island, which has some 1,000 residents during summers and is operated by the National Science Foundation. Peter West, a National Science Foundation spokesman, told the BBC, “There are Catholic chaplains available through the US military, so it's not as if practising Catholics will not be able to avail themselves of services and a Catholic priest. But this particular programme we cannot accommodate any longer.” The first New Zealander priest to serve at McMurdo was Fr. Ronald O'Gorman, who assisted a US Navy chaplain in 1957. Since then, the diocese has managed to assist in providing priests for the station's summer, from October to February. The priests serving at McMurdo have been based at the interreligious Chapel of the Snows. When McMurdo station was being built, there was not originally a plan to build a church. However, while working on other buildings, volunteers collected extra lumber and supplies to build the chapel, and its construction was completed even before the rest of the base was finished. The original Chapel of the Snows burned down in 1978, and was replaced with a new temporary chapel. The current chapel was dedicated in 1989. Fr. Doyle explained that at its heyday, McMurdo Station would be home to 2,000 people during the summer. He also added that improved communications technology has helped residents to feel less isolated while working in Antarctica. McMurdo Station will continue to be served by chaplains for the US military, and other Catholic chapels remain elsewhere in Antarctica. Argentina has several chapels at its bases, including one dedicated to Our Lady of Lujan at Marambio Base. There are also several Eastern Orthodox chapels located in Antarctica.
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