Belfast Telegraph

I'll pray for those who carried out church arson, says priest

Some of the damage which was caused by arsonists at Holy Family Church
Some of the damage which was caused by arsonists at Holy Family Church
Some of the damage which was caused by arsonists at Holy Family Church
Some of the damage which was caused by arsonists at Holy Family Church

By Jenna Gardiner and David Young

A priest has said he will pray for those responsible for an arson attack on a Catholic Church in Londonderry.

An outbuilding next to the Holy Family parish church on the Aileach Road in Ballymagroarty was destroyed on Friday evening.

The blaze spread to the church and nearby parochial house, causing damage to both.

More than 20 firefighters battled the fire while those attending an event in the parochial house were taken to safety.

The fire service said CCTV showed a group of youths starting a fire in a shed, putting lives in danger.

Police are seeking to identify two males who they believe may have been involved.

Unionist politicians led condemnation of the arson.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, Holy Family's Fr Paddy O'Kane said parishioners prayed for those responsible at Mass yesterday.

"Nobody was injured, and that's the main thing, but there is quite a lot of damage," he said.

"That's very disturbing because the people who did it - they did it deliberately.

"We could see them on the cameras deliberately setting the fire. It wasn't accidental.

"But we prayed for them at Mass today. I told them I had forgiven them, and we prayed for the young people, because anybody who does things like that has obviously a very disturbed mind."

Fr O'Kane said that he has been overwhelmed by the community's support. He added: "Parishioners have come forward, many, many people have come forward to offer their support, wanting to get physically involved in getting rid of the debris, get involved in the clean-up operation.

"I almost had to hold them back, because we can do nothing until the insurance people come."

He added: "People have been very supportive. After Mass today they came up and offered their sympathy. I'm very grateful to the fire service for their quick response. They saved the church going up in flames."

The attack has drawn widespread condemnation.

DUP MLA for Foyle Gary Middleton said the local community are united in condemning the attack, regardless of religious belief.

"Obviously I would be from a different faith, but it's just such a sad act," he said.

"How can people stoop so low? Never mind targeting any premises, but a church I think is particularly low."

Mr Middleton, who attends Kilfennan Presbyterian Church in the Waterside area, said countless people approached him at church yesterday morning to express their disgust at the arson.

"So many people from all faiths and backgrounds have been united in saying that what happened at Holy Family was absolutely dreadful.

"Everybody at this time is thinking particularly of the parish priest and parishioners. When we heard from Fr Paddy it was clear that he was so emotional and so hurt. I suppose his actions are very much in contrast to those who carried out the attack on the church."

Darren Guy, an Ulster Unionist councillor for the Waterside area, said: "That area has a problem with anti-social behaviour. I know myself as a taxi driver, and my colleagues have had problems with thugs up to no good.

"Coming into the summer, that type of behaviour is going on. The residents are well aware of that, anybody living there would tell you."

Police have urged anyone who was in the area at around 10.30pm when the fire was started or who has any information to contact 101 quoting reference 2311 of 24/05/19.

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