Closed church at Orlow, SK. burns to the ground – follows string of incidents across western Canada

The cause of the fire that destroyed Holy Trinity Catholic Church at Orlow, SK. is under investigation. (Photo by Lynn Swystun, Facebook, used with permission)

New bishop of Prince Albert writes diocese about church fire, which is under investigation

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

A closed church in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Prince Albert was destroyed by fire July 8 — one of a number of church fires in western Canada that have occurred after recent announcements about unmarked graves found at former residential school sites.

The cause of the fire at Holy Trinity Church at Orlow, SK, is under investigation.

“We grieve with those who have lost this loving landmark in Orlow,” wrote recently-installed Bishop Stephen Hero in a letter to the diocese of Prince Albert about the fire.

“In this terrible season of ‘burning churches,’ please pray for healing and peace in the communities that are losing their beloved sanctuaries whether by the violent act of an individual or by natural causes,” wrote Bishop Hero.

“May the gentle rain of God’s grace put out the fires of anger and blame in our hearts as we seek ways to live in peace as children of the same loving Creator who is good enough to send ‘rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous’ (Matt 5:45),” he said.

Holy Trinity Church, although no longer a functioning parish, was a landmark in the Rural Municipality of Redberry, where it stood for over 100 years and was often known simply as “the Polish Church,” Hero reported. The diocese of Prince Albert sold the church building to a local family in 2020 who “devoted themselves to the preservation of this beloved place of prayer with its steeple directing eyes and hearts to heaven,” he said.

Holy Trinity Church before the blaze. (Photo by Lynn Swystun, Facebook, used with permission)


Church fires, vandalism condemned

By Quinton Amundson, The Catholic Register 

[Toronto – Canadian Catholic News – July 6, 2021] – The Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) has condemned the rash of church fires and vandalism that has taken place across Canada, particularly in the west, since the discovery of graves at former residential schools.

A number of churches in British Columbia and Alberta have burned to the ground, others have been damaged by fire and still more have been vandalized in the weeks following the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in Kamloops in late May and subsequent discoveries at Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan and another school in Cranbrook, B.C. Ten churches were vandalized on Canada Day alone in Alberta. Orange paint was smattered on doors and other exterior features.

“We stand with the victims of the residential school program and seek healing and reconciliation,” stated the CCRL in a Canada Day statement that came on the heels of a June 22 statement that condemned the first church burnings. “Violence and property destruction does not answer these needs.”

On June 26, Chopaka Catholic Church and St. Ann’s Catholic Church were destroyed by suspected arson in B.C.  Alberta’s Siksika Nation’s Holy Trinity Church was set on fire on June 28 — the flames were extinguished and no structural damage apparent. On June 30, St. Jean Baptiste Parish in Morinville, Alta., was burned to the ground and St. Kateri Tekakwitha Church north of Halifax was set ablaze.

Incidents were also reported at Holy Rosary Church in Edmonton and St. Paul’s Co-Cathedral in Saskatoon as parts of the exterior at both institutions were smeared with red handprints to symbolize the Indigenous children who suffered at Catholic-operated residential schools for many decades.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney — one of the most outspoken commentators against cancelling or tearing down historical/religious statues — tweeted on July 1 that “the vandalism of churches across Alberta is appalling.” Kenney particularly spotlighted African Evangelical Church in Calgary.

“The congregation is made up entirely of new Canadians, many of whom came here as refugees fleeing countries where churches are often vandalized and burned down,” wrote Kenney. “These folks came to Canada with the hope that they could practise their faith peacefully. Some of them are traumatized by such attacks. This is where hatred based on collective guilt for historic injustices leads us. Let’s seek unity, respect and reconciliation instead.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the anger Canadians feel towards the federal government and Catholic Church is “real and it is fully understandable given the shameful history we have all become more aware of.”

However, he condemned the church vandalism saying he “can’t help but think that burning down churches is actually depriving people who are in need of grieving and healing and mourning from places where they can grieve and reflect and look for support.”

In light of the rash of incidents in Calgary, police have stepped up patrols around several churches and are working with the Diocese of Calgary to assess security and prevention arrangements. One potential safeguard being discussed at multiple Alberta churches is having individual parishioners take turns keeping watch.

The CCRL is working on a database to collect incidents of vandalism against Catholic churches.

“The CCRL has been working on a searchable database of acts of vandalism against Catholic churches in Canada, with a launch date forthcoming.  We pray that more entries can be avoided.”

Anger was also directed at the monarchy as statues of Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria were toppled on Canada Day in Winnipeg. Residential schools operated during the tenures of the United Kingdom’s two longest-reigning monarchs.


Burning, vandalism of churches “deeply distressing” states Vancouver archdiocese

By B.C. Catholic Staff

[Canadian Catholic News – July 6, 2021] – The Archdiocese of Vancouver issued a statement July 6 calling for “reconciliation, dialogue, and atonement with Indigenous people” rather than “hatred and violence” in the wake of attacks on churches as well as a controversial statement by the head of the BC Civil Liberties Association.

“It is deeply distressing to hear the recent news of the burning down and vandalism of some churches,” said the archdiocesan statement.

“The right path forward is one of reconciliation, dialogue, and atonement with Indigenous people and in following the way they would lead us in that process. It is painful and disturbing to find people in positions of local authority urge mobs toward increasing hatred and violence. Churches are made up of people, and many of them here are made up of Indigenous people, refugees, and migrants – the very people we should all seek to protect rather than terrorize.”

The statement followed several cases of vandalism of churches in the Archdiocese of Vancouver, the burning of churches across Canada, and remarks from the executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association that appeared to support the burning of churches.

In a June 30 tweet about a news article on fires destroying Catholic churches, Harsha Walia wrote “burn it all down.”

The tweet, which received both support and criticism on social media, was condemned by B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, who said it was “just disgusting and reprehensible that somebody who heads up an organization like that would make such comments,” he said.

Nico Slobinsky of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in Vancouver tweeted, “I don’t understand why the ED of the BC Civil Liberties Assoc is calling for violence. Violence and hate don’t appear to be solutions being proposed by Indigenous communities, and it is their voices we should be listening to and respecting on this matter.”

CIJA’s national office tweeted, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms the burning and vandalism of churches across the #Canada. We too are deeply pained by the recent discoveries of unmarked graves in former residential schools…”

In a follow-up tweet it added, “As a society, we have much work to do towards truth & reconciliation, but violence cannot be the answer. It will not help us build a better future. To the contrary, it leads to deeper division & resentment.”

The most recent vandalism on a Lower Mainland church was St. Jude’s Parish in Vancouver which is calling on the public to help police identify two individuals who were videotaped splashing orange paint on the side of the church after dark on Canada Day.

Places of worship in other parts of B.C. and Canada have faced worse than a few splashes of paint. Catholic churches in Kamloops, Morinville, and Calgary area have been reduced to rubble or damaged by fire, while an Anglican church and Alliance church were also recently targeted by fires police believe were intentionally set.