Placed on the altar at the Church of the Assumption, Tullamore — which was rebuilt 25 years ago — the “Black Crucifix” is one of the few relics of the fire which destroyed the building in 1983.
Tullamore’s five priests, who fasted yesterday to acknowledge the hurt and confusion their parishioners feel as a result of ongoing child abuse scandals, see the crucifix as symbolic of the Catholic faith — retaining its original shape, but badly damaged.
Curate Fr Shane Crombie said: “The fire burnt the church down, but the fire of these scandals is equally as devastating. And even though the building is standing, the lives and the faith of so many people have been challenged and hurt as well.”
The fast, which ended at 8pm last night, was necessary before they could begin properly to celebrate the new building’s anniversary.
Despite the fact that there have been no revelations of abuse in the parish itself, hundreds turned out to midnight Mass and many maintained their vigil through Wednesday night.
Parish priest Fr Sean Heaney said he has never seen such an outpouring of emotion, with hundreds signing a book of solidarity in the church. The book will remain there for the weekend and will be given to Ian Elliott, chief executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.
What began as an invitation to the congregation to “join us in order to renew our parish community in sorrow and in hope” has gathered support from across the world and across religious boundaries.
Fr Heaney says his parishioners have been waiting for some opportunity to show solidarity with victims of abuse and engage with their faith, but says the event is not a stunt or a magic trick.
“There’s nothing we can do to undo the damage, or to bring back a life to the people who have suffered irreparable damage but, as far as we are able, we want to be at one with the people who have been hurt and angered by what they’ve seen,” he said.