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A hard cross to bear! - Thieves vandalise centuries-old church

PRIEST: We pray the cross would be a source of conviction for whomever took it

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, August 30, 2012    

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WORSHIPPERS at the historic St James Parish Church in Montego Bay are praying purposefully for the return of a centuries-old processional cross which was stolen by thieves last week.

Up to Jamaica Observer press time last night, police in the north coast tourist resort city had been unable to find clues as to the whereabouts of the valuable brass cross and other items which were stolen from the church last Monday.

Rector of the church, Rev Canon Justin Nembhard, said he has had to substitute the brass cross for a wooden one which he had built immediately, and the church also had to use substitutes of the other stolen items at last Sunday's worship service.

Canon Nembhard said that the stolen items also included brass candlestick holders, a missal stand and a collection plate, all of which had important historical value having been in the church for decades.

The church was built between 1775 and 1782 and later underwent substantial repair work in 1957 following damage from an earthquake.

Attempts were also made by the culprit(s) to remove the lectern, but they failed in their bid to do so.

"All the items which were taken were brass, but they had a shiny look to them so it could be that they were thought to be gold," Nembhard said.

It is speculated that the items could have been taken to fuel the cash-for-gold trade and not necessarily the scrap metal trade, as Nembhard said the base of the candlestick holders were made of heavy metal and those were left behind by the irreverent thieves.

Said to be the grandest church in Montego Bay, the historic building is set in a large graveyard featuring tombstones over 200 years old and is set out in the classic Greek cross shape. An elaborate stained glass window was installed in 1911, and adorning the walls are plaques and memorials to important figures in the history of Montego Bay.

But sometime between Sunday into Monday morning last week thieves cut the wires to the alarm system, disabling it before gaining entry to the church.

Meanwhile, the reverend said it was unthinkable that persons could have so lost respect for sacred places, even as he pointed out that the problem is not only limited to Jamaica. He cited a recent case where thieves made off with a 200-pound bell from a California church in the United States.

The priest said there was a segment of the population which had grown up without a moral compass."They have no respect for God or man and there is no moral or ethical judgement on their part," he complained.

As such, he said, churches had been forced to become more conscious of the likelihood of vandalism.

In the meantime, Canon Nembhard said his membership was remaining optimistic that the thieves would be convicted into returning the stolen items.

"We pray the cross would be a source of conviction for whomever took it or whomever will receive it, and that the candlesticks will burn in their conscience to know that stealing is an act of darkness," Nembhard said.

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