LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A Catholic church in Northern Ireland was set on fire in an arson attack on Friday, destroying an outbuilding and damaging the sanctuary and rectory.

“At this stage we believe two males may have been involved in starting this fire and we are keen to identify them,” said a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Firefighter Andy Burns said “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 added.


Father Paddy O’Kane, who is the pastor of Holy Family parish in Derry, said he would be praying for those responsible.

“I never can understand vandalism or arson, I don’t understand what buzz it gives people,” the priest told the BBC.

“I can’t understand what goes on in a person’s mind that they want to cause damage to other people and how it can make them feel good. I feel more sorry for them. There is something badly wrong in their lives whenever they do this,” O’Kane said.

Derry is the second-largest city in Northern Ireland, after Belfast. Located near the border with the Republic of Ireland and having a Catholic majority, the city has often been the scene of sectarian tension.

Last month, 29-year-old journalist Lyra McKee was killed in the city by members of the New IRA while covering a police search for weapons in a housing estate following intelligence reports that dissident republican groups had planted them in the area.

Her death shocked people throughout the island of Ireland and in the United Kingdom, putting pressure on all sides to renew negotiations to restore the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland that collapsed more than two years ago.

Both republican and unionist politicians condemned the latest incident.

“I really can’t understand the mindset of people who would want to destroy a place of worship and somebody’s home,” said city councilor Shaun Cusack, a member of the moderate republican SDLP.

Gary Middleton, a member of the Democratic Unionist Party and former deputy mayor, tweeted the incident was a “terrible act of vandalism and desecration.”

“My thoughts are with the parish Priest, parishioners of Holy Family Church and the local community,” he said.

Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome

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