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Dedication of rebuilt Parramatta cathedral

Seven years after it was nearly destroyed by an arson attack, St Patrick's Cathedral in the western Sydney diocese of Parramatta was officially dedicated on Saturday.

Addressing a 900-strong congregation in the ultra-modern church, the Pope's envoy Cardinal Edward Cassidy touched on the 1996 fire that destroyed all but one wall.

"From that tragedy, this new cathedral has been born," he said. "This new cathedral is not to be seen as a monument or a place to visit because of its architecture. This is God's own house."

The event was attended by the bishops who had been in Sydney for the week's Plenary Meeting of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

Seated in the front pews were Federal Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock and NSW Premier Bob Carr. Mr Carr said the cathedral had one of the most beautiful interiors in Australia and was the best of the nation's modern church buildings.

"If this building doesn't get an architectural award, I'll create one for it," he said. "It's a beautiful space -- the lightness, the airiness, and yet the solemnity of it.

"This is a triumph of the vision of Parramatta's Catholics ... that out of the wreckage they've produced this stunning new building."

In February, 1996, a man entered the cathedral through the open front doors and set fire to a tablecloth near the altar. He lit another fire in the steeple before walking from the cathedral and sitting down nearby. The man then spent 20 minutes directing traffic away from the scene as fire crews rushed in.

The new cathedral was designed by Romaldo Giurgola, who designed Parliament House in Canberra. It can seat 930 people. The rebuilding was completed at a cost of $14 million.

Although restored in its original style, the cathedral has been updated. In the larger, light-filled St Patrick's, the pews face one another rather than the front of the church.

Cathedral back from fire (Sunday Telegraph 30/11/03 - payment required)

St Patrick's Cathedral Parramatta
Cathedral rises from the ashes (Daily Telegraph 29/11/03)
Hundreds at cathedral dedication (Daily Telegraph/AAP 29/11/03)

31 Dec 2003