Police have arrested a 17-year-old youth after a church in Great Yarmouth was attacked and desecrated.
CCTV footage showed a man setting small fires in St Mary’s Catholic Church in Regent Road, Great Yarmouth, then attempting to burn an icon he took from the altar, replacing it with a picture of Satan. The incident happened on March 29.
The attack has been condemned by Parish Priest Fr Anthony Nwankwo and Bishop Alan Hopes of East Anglia, who pledged that the incident would not stop the diocese leaving its churches across the region open as places of prayer and sanctuary.
Fr Anthony said: “I was shocked and saddened when I discovered what had happened. When I looked at the altar I saw this picture of something satanic. My immediate thought was to get some holy water and use it with prayer to nullify what the person had done.
“It is a clear attack on the church and our religion which is not acceptable. If people do not like what we do here they can just stay away. Such an attack on our church can never succeed.
“Our parishioners are shocked and sad about what has happened but I was very encouraged by the number of people who came to Mass this morning in support.
“Our church and sanctuary has been desecrated. When I celebrated Mass this morning I did not use the altar or sanctuary, because I felt the altar has been desecrated.”
Fr Anthony continued: “Something similar happened four months ago when someone came into the church and left a satanic picture at the foot of a cross we have at the back of the church. Two weeks ago someone came in and stole a microphone we use on the altar.
“We will not close the church but to use the altar and sanctuary we need to go through a service to reconsecrate the area. As part of that we will also ask for forgiveness for the person who did this.”
Bishop Hopes said: “I am very saddened by what has happened, especially in Holy Week which is the most important week in the church’s year. I am hoping it is not a hate crime, but whoever did it needs to know that he is already forgiven because that is part of who we are as Christians, but we pray that this won’t happen again.
“Whatever happens, our churches should remain open because they are places where people can find sanctuary and God’s presence, somewhere to pray and bring their concerns to God.”
The 17-year-old arrested on suspicion of criminal damage has been bailed until April 18.