Christian unity festival organisers dismayed at arson attack on church

PressEye - Northern Ireland - 31st January 2017

Saint Patrick's Church, Donegall Street, arson attack.

Pictured: Saint Patrick's Church.

Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye

PressEye - Northern Ireland - 31st January 2017 Saint Patrick's Church, Donegall Street, arson attack. Pictured: Saint Patrick's Church. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye

The organisers of a festival in Belfast aimed at promoting Christian unity have spoken of their dismay at an arson attack on a Catholic Church in north Belfast.

St Patrick’s Church on Donegall Street suffered significant damage in the blaze, hich was discovered on Monday afternoon.

Bishop Noel Treanor said: “This criminal action is a violation of the sanctity of the Church and an attack upon the local community that has caused significant damage to the property and left the local congregation distressed and deeply upset.

“Places of worship hold deep significance for the entire community and for their congregations and they should not be targeted.”

The organisers of the 4 Corners festival, which is due to begin on Friday, said it is “vital” the arson attack is condemned “in the strongest terms”.

In a statement, the festival organisers said: “Just days before the start of this year’s 4 Corners festival we are dismayed to hear of the arson attack on St Patrick’s Church. The Festival seeks to inspire people from across Belfast to transform the city for the peace and prosperity of all.

“As a society seeking a way out of our sectarian past it is vital that we condemn in the strongest terms such attacks whether on Catholic Churches, Protestant Churches, Jewish synagogues or indeed Orange Halls. We must declare that this is not being done in our name.

“St Patrick’s is also closely involved in the origins of 4 Corners Festival. In the first four years of the Festival we have held events in St. Patrick’s twice.

“Last year we used it for ‘Captured By a Vision,’ when Rev Dr Ken Newell came to read from his memoir of that name. On this occasion, we chose the venue carefully.

“In his book Ken speaks of being sectarian in his early life and that it was during an Orange Lodge march that stopped outside St Patrick’s that was one of the moments that started to change his mind. He glanced into the Church as he walked past and saw Catholics in prayer. It sparked thoughts within his soul.”

Festival Co-Founder Rev Steve Stockman also has personal connections to St Patrick’s.

“It is the first Catholic Church that I ever took part in a service in,” he said.

“In 1998 at the Jesus In the City Conference I was involved in the closing act of worship and asked if I would pray. I decided that I would write a prayer for the entire city. I therefore imagined standing at City Hall and looking out… north, south, east and west. I was uneasy praying in a Catholic Church that evening, but actually it was a helpful event in shifting my heart, that was hardened by peer pressure to never pray or read or preach in Catholic Churches. That evening in St. Patrick’s was a significant moment in my journey of faith.”