Northern Ireland news

Massgoers pray for arsonists who attacked church

Fr Paddy O'Kane led prayers for the youths responsible for the arson attack. Pictures by Margaret McLaughlin 
Seamus McKinney

MASSGOERS at Holy Family in Derry "have prayed" for the youths responsible for an arson attack on their church buildings, the parish priest has said.

Police are seeking two young people they believe started the fire in outbuildings adjacent to the church in Ballymagroarty.

The sheds/garages were completely gutted but fire fighters managed to stop the blaze from spreading further. However, windows in the parochial house and the roof of the church were also damaged as fire crews fought to contain the blaze.

CCTV showed several youths present when the fire started shortly after 10pm on Friday night. Fire and Rescue Service group commander Andy Burns said the fire was started in sheds at the rear of the parochial house.

Fr Paddy O'Kane surveys the damage at Holy Family Church in Derry city on Friday night.Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

“This was arson. This had the potential to spread to the adjoining parochial house, which was occupied, and people can lose their lives in this type of incident.

“We would ask our young people, please do not get involved in setting deliberate fires, setting fires like this is very dangerous,” he said.

Parish priest Fr Paddy O’Kane said he was visiting a sick parishioner when he was told about the fire. The parishioner’s son showed him images on social media.

Fr O'Kane said at first thought it was a joke.

“I went to the front of the man’s house and then I could see smoke rising. The community had gathered. I got a terrible shock,” he said.

Fr Paddy O'Kane led prayers for the youths responsible for the arson attack. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

“We prayed at all Masses for the young people responsible and that they would realise what they did was wrong.”

He said he nothing of any great value was lost in the fire although he was slightly annoyed that some of his “bee-keeping equipment” was destroyed.

“But at the end of the day, that can all be replaced,” he said.

The priest said there had been a steady stream of people calling to the church since the fire, all offering help and support.

A PSNI spokesman appealed to anyone who could identify the youths responsible to contact police.

Fr Paddy O'Kane stands among the burnt remains following a deliberate fire that was started in the garages at the back of Holy Family Church in Derry city on Friday night. The parochial house and the church itself were also damaged in the blaze. Youths were captured on CCTV where the blaze was started. Picture Margaret McLaughlin 25-5-2019 ©

He said: “At this stage, we believe two males may have been involved in starting this fire and we are keen to identify them. We would like to hear from anyone who was in the area at around the time of the fire or anyone who may have information regarding this crime.”

Sinn Féin councillor Michael Cooper said people were shocked and angry that anyone would attack a church in such a way.

SDLP councillor Shaun Cusack said the fire put people at risk.

“I really can’t understand the mindset of people who would want to destroy a place of worship and somebody’s home,” she said.

The burnt remains following a deliberate fire that was started in the garages at the back of Holy Family Church in Derry city on Friday night. The parochial house and the church itself were also damaged in the blaze. Youths were captured on CCTV where the blaze was started. Picture Margaret McLaughlin 25-5-2019 ©

Holy Family Church - following a deliberate fire that was started in the garages at the back of Holy Family Church in Derry city on Friday night. The parochial house and the church itself were also damaged in the blaze. Youths were captured on CCTV where the blaze was started. Picture Margaret McLaughlin 25-5-2019 ©

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