POLICE are treating an arson attack on a Catholic church as sectarian. Scorch damage was caused to the front door of St Mary's Star of Sea Church on the Shore Road on the outskirts of north Belfast.
The building has been targeted numerous times in recent years, and it also follows a spate of recent sectarian attacks on other churches and Orange halls.
It is believed flammable liquid was poured on the door and set alight shortly before 1.30am yesterday.
A spokesman for Down and Connor diocese said the community was "appalled".
"The cowardly and destructive attack on St Mary's Star of the Sea Church has left the parish priest, parishioners and wider community deeply appalled and upset," he said.
"This futile action is completely at variance with the very strong cross community relationships experienced by local clergy and parishioners and they have taken great consolation in receiving support from all following this attack on their place of worship.
"Such senseless actions only serve to escalate tensions at a time of the year when every effort must be made by all citizens to promote respect and peace.
"Places of worship hold deep significance for their entire community and for their congregation and they should not be targeted.
"I appeal to all who have information in relation to this attack on Star of the Sea Church to assist the PSNI with their investigations."
Police said the attack was being treated as a hate crime and appealed for witnesses to come forward.
The church was attacked six times last year, with bomb scares disrupting Mass - including an Easter Vigil - and paint being daubed on the building, prompting the PSNI to step up patrols at churches in Co Antrim.
Politicians from across the spectrum condemned the latest attack.
North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds branded it "senseless".
"Those who carried out this utterly appalling action only want to stir up tensions and cause offence," he said.
"I hope everyone will be calm and there will not be a tit-for-tat response."
Sinn Féin councillor Gerry O'Reilly described the arson attack as despicable.
"The people who attempted to set fire to the St Mary's Church on the Shore Road need to realise they are not representative of the local community who see their deeds as hateful and despicable," he said.
"This is not the first time that St Mary's Church has been attacked but fortunately the fire did not take hold."
Alliance councillor Billy Webb said he was "shocked and horrified".
"This latest attack on the church will sadden the parish priest, the parishioners and the local community representing all faiths. Those doing this really need to take a step back."
Meanwhile police are investigating the daubing of an IRA slogan at Armagh courthouse.
"Police in Armagh are aware of sectarian graffiti on a building at the courthouse. It is believed the slogan was painted onto the building sometime shortly after midnight in the early hours of Sunday. Enquiries are ongoing," a spokesman said.