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Lismore cathedral fire deemed suspicious

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Fire crews raced to find the source of smoke pouring from St Carthage’s Cathedral early on 18 September. PHOTO: NSW Fire and Rescue

A fire at St Carthage’s Cathedral in Lismore early this morning is under police investigation.

NSW Fire and Rescue reported that it was alerted to a fire in the Catholic cathedral on Leycester Street in Lismore at 6.34am.

Multiple fire stations from the Northern Rivers region responded to the incident with crews finding large volumes of smoke issuing from the building’s roof.

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Firefighters extinguished a fire in the cathedral sacristy and fire which had spread into the roof. The sacristy sustained damage as a result of the fire, but not the main part of the cathedral including the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament.

Spokesman for the diocese of Lismore Joe Peirera said that no one had been inside in the cathedral at the time of the fire with no injuries reported.

“Bishop Homeming is very satisfied that everything is in hand and he takes the position that the church is not a building, it is the people,” Mr Peirera said at the scene. “His concern is more for the parishioners and for the broader community of Lismore.”

Bishop Greg Homeming OCD later thanked the police and fire brigade for controlling the blaze and confirmed its cause was still unknown.

“A damaged building is only a building, the Church remains undamaged because the Church is the people of God,” the bishop said in a video statement to his flock.

“The Church is you, and as long as you continue in your faith and in your love and care for others, the Church will go on with greater strength. So I’m not disturbed by what has happened, it’s a building and I thank God that no one was injured.”

Acting Inspector Anthony Smith at Lismore Police Station told The Catholic Weekly that it was being treated by crime scene investigators as a suspicious fire.

“We’re obviously in the early stages of the investigation and we don’t know exactly how it was started, but the base of the outside door of the sacristy was on fire and even though the sacristy was well-secured the fire got into the building that way,” he said.

“There is a little bit of damage, but they have done really well to keep it out of the main part of the cathedral and all the relics have been kept safe.

Fire crews access the ceiling of St Carthage’s Cathedral to control a blaze on 18 September. PHOTO: NSW Fire and Rescue

“I have to also make mention of the wonderful food that was provided by the parish staff to all the ambulance officers, police and fireys that were there. They cooked up bacon and eggs, scones and cream, and it was well received by everyone that was there.”

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP said he had called Bishop Homeming to express the sympathies of the people of Sydney to the people of Lismore regarding the incident.

“In both dioceses in which I have served as bishop – Parramatta and Sydney – the cathedral was lost to fire and people were devastated for decades thereafter,” Archbishop Fisher said.

“Happily the fire at the beautiful Lismore cathedral was extinguished before it got out of control.

“But whatever the damage, we will rebuild, as the Church must be rebuilt in every generation by every generation for every generation.”

The sanctuary of the cathedral was restored in 2016 as part of a $15m repair of the historic building. Bishop Homeming was installed as bishop of Lismore in 2017.

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