By Sarah Mac Donald - 12 July, 2013
A statue of the Virgin Mary which Loyalists intended to burn in a bonfire has been returned to the Holy Cross monastery in Belfast.
According to Passionist priest, Fr Gary Donegan, the statue had been placed on a pyre ready for lighting on Thursday night, but was saved by community leaders in the Shankill area of the city.
“This evening they sent a representative from the Shankill up to meet me just before 7pm and returned it here to Holy Cross,” Fr Donegan told RTE News.
Earlier on Thursday, outrage greeted news of the statue’s plight when it was photographed on Lanark Way bonfire. There was strong reaction to its sectarian and sacrilegious treatment. The face of the Virgin had been hacked off.
A local DUP councillor, Brian Kingston, stepped in and arranged for a community worker to have the statue removed from the pyre.
Speaking to the Belfast News Letter, Mr Kingston said that the matter had been brought to his attention and that he had made representation within the local community.
“I can understand how this could cause offence,” he said and added, “I appreciate the efforts which have been made to have this removed. That has been done sincerely and it is the right thing that it has been removed.”
In Holy Cross monastery in Ardoyne, Fr Donegan expressed satisfaction that the statue, despite its disfigurement, had been saved.
Tensions are running high in Northern Ireland ahead of the annual 12th July Orange parades.
Up to 4,000 police officers have been deployed to ensure the parades pass off peacefully.
Meanwhile, the three bishops of the Diocese of Down and Connor, expressed hope that the Twelfth of July would be “celebrated in a way that respects peace, diversity of traditions, the rights of different communities and that it paves a way for neighbourly and respectful celebration of difference.”
Bishop Noel Treanor, along with auxiliaries Bishop Anthony Farquhar and Bishop Donal McKeown recalled how under the gaze of the world, Northern Ireland and its citizens received the G8 summit and “showed their ability to hold together divergent views in a peaceful and orderly way that respected public order.”
They encouraged “all, especially young people, to follow and support those community leaders, police and civil authorities who undertake to foster and protect the good of all.”
Dialogue is the only way to build a future for our society and for our young people, they underlined and warned that confrontation is contrary to the spirit of the Gospel.
“Those who promote confrontation and destruction, either directly or indirectly, have nothing to offer for the future. The way to the future is the path of dialogue and real engagement with our neighbours,” they said and they invited parish communities to pray for all those who seek to promote peace, respect and good neighbourliness.
However, ahead of the parades, the Orange Order warned that there are likely to be protests over the coming days following a decision by the Parades Commission to rule out a return parade past the nationalist Ardoyne area in north Belfast.
It is the first time that the Parades Commission has given this ruling.
Past years have seen rioting in the area when Orange Lodge members were permitted to march past nationalist homes after taking a route up the Loyalist Shankill Road.
Orange Order chaplain Rev Mervyn Gibson said the Grand Lodge did not want to “up the ante” or “raise tensions.”
“What we are trying to do is give vent to people’s anger in a peaceful and controlled way, but there are people out there who are angry, very angry,” he said.
“What we are saying is, ‘control that anger and channel it against the Parades Commission’.”
Both Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, and the PSNI’s Assistant Chief Constable, Will Kerr, have appealed to everyone involved with the parades to observe the rule of law.
By Sarah Mac Donald