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Catholics pray after vandals hit

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Bishop Richard Umbers addresses an impromptu prayer vigil at Dulwich Hill after a statue of Our Lady was desecrated. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

There has been an overwhelming response from Catholics following the desecration of a statue of Our Lady at a church in Sydney’s inner west.

The statue was attacked at St Paul of the Cross Church, Dulwich Hill, in the early hours of the morning of Monday 20 November with the heads of both Our Lady and the baby Jesus being severed.

Earlier in the year a statue of St Charbel was also stolen from the church grounds. It is unknown whether the two incidents are related.

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Bishop Richard Umbers, who has been Parish Priest since Easter, said parishioners were “distraught” about the desecration: “Very, very sad. People were crying,” he said.

The vandalised statue at Dulwich Hill.

Hundreds turned out at the church on the evening following the shocking case of vandalism to pray the Rosary in reparation to God for the senseless act.

“Because of social media things moved so quickly. There were hundreds of people who wanted to pray there and then,” Bishop Umbers said. “It was packed. There were a lot of families and young people.”

During the prayer vigil the Rosary was recited and hymns were sung. Several people addressed the crowd including Bishop Umbers who said: “When we love a lot, it hurts a lot. But we’re here to pray in a spirit of reparation and what matters is that we be a light in the darkness, that we show our love and that we be free from sin. Because it’s an offence against God so that’s why we’re making reparation.”

He said during the prayer vigil people were “very emotional”.

Fr John Ssemaganda also spoke to the crowd about Our Lady of Fatima and the Rosary, reminding them that Jesus is the centre of everything.

Following the vigil Bishop Umbers and Fr Ssemaganda offered people the Sacrament of Confession.

Tony Mattar from Catholic Chaplaincy at Sydney University who helped organise the vigil said he was motivated by his Maronite Catholic faith which entails a strong devotion to Our Lady.

Mr Mattar said he and fellow Maronites were disgusted when they saw the photos of the desecrated statue.

People praying in reparation after a statue of Our Lady and the Child Jesus was vandalised at Dulwich Hill. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

He said the aim of the vigil was to “unite to show we won’t stand for this type of behaviour” and to emphasise that the response should be made through “praying and not through violence.” The parish has been inundated with offers of help including of funds to replace the statues.

The motivation behind the attack is not yet known. Bishop Umbers cautioned against conflating the incident with other issues facing people of faith at the moment.

“There’s all sorts of issues swirling around at the moment and I think the problem with social media is that ‘fake news’ angle of things. People shoot without asking questions. Who knows? We have to wait and see. It could be just a random act of violence. We don’t know that story yet.”

Following the incident a photo was posted on social media of a young man posing with the decapitated statue.

It was later reported that a 19 year-old man approached a police station early on the morning of Tuesday 21 November and was assisting police with their inquiries.

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