Catholic empathy for Anglicans after Sydney church burns

After an inner-city Sydney Anglican church was destroyed by fire, Parramatta Catholic Bishop Kevin Manning - whose cathedral was destroyed by fire 10 years ago - has said that God will not let the Anglicans down.

St Barnabas Broadway, almost 150 years old, is now a skeleton following the fire that broke out in the early hours of yesterday morning.

"Their hopes have to be built on their grief," Bishop Manning told the Sydney Morning Herald. "But from that grief [they learn] God is not going to let them down. They are not working on some secular project, it's a God-inspired project."

The sandstone walls of Parramatta's St Patrick's Cathedral were all that remained after a deliberately lit blaze roared through the building on 19 February, 1996. Manning was appointed a year later and found a community still devastated by that act of extraordinary vandalism.

"It was such a centre of their life and many of them had grown up and worshipped in no other church, and there was an enormous sense of loss," he said. "I understand it. God resides here, this is a sacred place and where God is calling us into unity around himself."

But, from the ashes, the rebuilding of the cathedral became a unifying mission. Organising committees were established and fund-raising events staged.

At a cost of $15 million, Parramatta Cathedral was reopened seven years later, its capacity now twice that of the original church. The blackened belltower steps were incorporated in the design of the rebuilt church, a powerful reminder of the vagaries of history.

"Quite frankly, it [the fire] was a bonus in a way. One of the best places of worship in Australia has risen from the ashes and the people have joined together and united, thanks to God," Manning said.

St Barnabas was famous for its signboard theological debates with the pub across the road.

"If I was to write a signboard, it would go something like this," said Anglican Bishop Robert Forsyth. "Jesus said: I will build my church and the gates of death will not prevail against it. Fire is but a small glitch."

And then: "If God raised Jesus from the dead, a fire is not the end of the world for the church."

Just a fiery glitch (Sydney Morning Herald 11/5/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Diocese of Parramatta | St Patrick's Cathedral
St Barnabas Broadway

Sydney cathedral clinches top design prize (CathNews 29/10/04)
Dedication of rebuilt Parramatta cathedral (CathNews 1/12/03)
Work to start on new cathedral (CathNews 12/7/02)

Fire guts historic church (Financial Review/Australian Associated Press 10/5/06)
Blaze rips through Sydney church (ABC Sydney 10/5/06)
St Barnabas fire: new message to be posted (ABC Radio PM 10/5/06)
Church's latest sign one of determination - to rebuild (Sydney Morning Herald 11/5/06)
Barney's destroyed by fire (sydneyanglicans.net 10/5/06)
Building burns; church survives (sydneyanglicans.net 10/5/06)

11 May 2006