Belfast Telegraph

Mass at arson attack Catholic church in Belfast

By Claire O'Boyle

More than 100 parishioners attended a lunchtime mass at St Patrick's Church in Belfast yesterday, less than 24 hours after it suffered an arson attack.

Turning up to support their local priests, people ran from their offices to make it to the church for the 1pm service.

Father Dominic McGrattan revealed yesterday that a 92-year-old priest, who is partially-sighted, was in the church when it was targeted on Monday.

"Father Brendan, who has been in the parish since 2000, goes to pray every afternoon and he was there when someone came in and set a pair of curtains alight," he said.

"He's made of strong stuff, but like all of us he was shaken up by what happened. The curtains could have been on fire for as long as 20 minutes before the alarm went off, and the church was filled with smoke."

Father Dominic was in the parish office when the fire alarm went off.

"The curtains, which the parish upcycled from old stage curtains, were coated in flame retardant so luckily they didn't go up very quickly," he said.

"The Fire Service responded very quickly which was very helpful. But for something like this to happen is, of course, very shocking. It's dreadful to think that something like this could be so near at hand and it makes me think of other religions being persecuted around the world."

One parishioner said he was shocked by what had happened, but that the church would carry on as usual.

"This is a very active church with people coming to services right throughout the week," he said. "We were shocked by what happened, but thankfully no one was hurt, and people will carry on coming here to pray as they always do."

Alliance councillor Nuala McAllister condemned those behind the attack on the Donegall Street church.

She said: "It is difficult to understand the thinking behind this attack on St Patrick's. It makes no sense to attack a church that offers comfort to many and is a threat to no-one.

"A sacred place should be respected not desecrated. It is fortunate that there were no injuries to people in the church at the time of the attack and the emergency services are to be thanked for their prompt response."

St Patrick's, which is undergoing extensive outside repair work at the moment, has been in the headlines before. It was at the centre of a parades dispute in 2015 after a flute band was accused of playing an antagonistic, sectarian song outside.

Police are treating the incident as arson and are appealing for witnesses.

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