Swift action prevented loss in cathedral fire

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Lismore Bishop Greg Homeming OCD. PHOTO: Diocese of Lismore

Cathedral ‘would not be here’ without intense response

Lismore Bishop Greg Homeming OCD has thanked police who arrested a man suspected of setting fire to the diocese’s cathedral, and praised the firefighters who prevented major damage.

Stephen Anthony Luke, 45, was arrested last Saturday morning in Lismore and charged with multiple offences including arson, armed robbery and assault.

Police allege Mr Luke set fire to St Carthage’s Cathedral in Lismore early on 18 September, burning an outside door of the sacristy through which the flames entered, gutted it before spreading into the building’s roof. 

They also link the fire to another at Hillsong church in Sydney in the days previous and the pastor’s own home. Police say the blazes form part of a string of dangerous offences beginning in Griffith on 14 September and ending with the man’s arrest in Magellan Street in Lismore’s main shopping district.

He has been refused bail. 

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

Thanking the Richmond Police District officers for safely securing the man after he resisted arrest, Bishop Homeming also praised the work of emergency services and cathedral staff. 

“If it wasn’t for them, the cathedral wouldn’t be here now. They did magnificent work,” he told media. 

The cathedral, although it’s a Catholic church, it belongs to the community, it’s been here for more than 100 years and it’s an important feature of Lismore.  

It belongs not just to me and the Catholics, it belongs to all the people of Lismore. 

As with any great building, everyone’s proud of it. 

However, the bishop said the safety of parishioners, priests and parish staff was his primary concern. He said it was hoped that Masses could resume in the cathedral by this weekend. 

Thanks to the quick response by emergency service crews, including 40 firefighters, the blaze which began around 6.30am was brought under control before it entered the main body of the cathedral. 

Later that morning Bishop Homeming recorded a video message reassuring his flock that the cathedral had been saved and that no one had been injured as a result of the fire. 

“A damaged building is only a building, the Church remains undamaged because the Church is the people of God,” the bishop said. “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.”

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