By Lara Pickford-Gordon
The Pastoral Centre at St Francis RC, Belmont was vandalised yesterday afternoon (Saturday, April 23) as parishioners were gathered for the start of the 5 p.m. Mass.
Linda Stephen, Secretary of the St Francis RC Restoration Fundraising Committee told the Catholic News six windows and the glass panel door of the main entrance, a statue of St Bernadette, and of Mary located in the grotto were damaged. The destruction was estimated to be thousands of dollars.
A video from the church compound circulating online shows two persons walking onto the compound. One of them, carrying a pole with a coloured flag is visibly proceeding towards the pastoral centre. He walks back and is shown off-camera, then pieces of something are seen falling to the ground. The man with the flag saunters towards another person who appears to have accompanied him. This individual is clutching a book and raises his free arm gesticulating.
Stephen said the flagpole appears to have been aimed at the heart of the statue of Our Lady as the torso suffered the most damage.
Parishioners later propped the statute to prevent it from falling to the ground. She disclosed that the man clutching the book had a small bag from which he sprinkled dirt about the compound. Parishioners washed it away. The man carrying the flagpole was reported to have been speaking incoherently as he moved about the churchyard. After leaving, the men reportedly damaged cars parked in the vicinity of the church.
The police were contacted, and the suspects were detained. Parishioners went to the Belmont police station and gave their reports. Investigations are ongoing. The episode did not stop the usual Sunday Masses at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. today Sunday, April 24 at the Centre.
Asked about prayers being held after the incident Saturday, Stephen said, “yes there have been prayers, people pray continuously. This is what the people of Belmont are about – forgiveness and mercy.” She noted that it was Mercy Sunday. “They are coming together and believe this will make them stronger as a parish community.”
Stephen said the people of St Francis have been without a church since it was closed for restoration and Parish Priest Fr Thomas Lawson OP is leading them in the goal of returning. “The people are united in that goal of getting back and being able to worship in their church.”
In his homily today at the Pastoral Centre, Fr Lawson told the congregation that fear must not make them paralysed or lock them away. He asserted they are a resurrection, people.
Stephen stated that after repairs to the statues and windows, the pastoral centre and statues will be reconsecrated. Vicar of Communications Fr Robert Christo said, “we continue to hold St Francis in our prayers”.
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