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Someone desperately did not want Catholics of Pointe Michel to attend mass on Sunday. But it would take much more than a small fire to separate the people of Pointe Michel from their church.

On Friday night a fire burnt about 10 percent of the pews in the Our Lady of La Salette church.

But, defiantly, parishioners gathered in large numbers on Saturday to ensure that the church was clean enough for the usual church service at 8am on Sunday morning.

After the fire, Parish priest Fr. Peter Wamutitu said he was shocked that someone had tried to burn the newly-renovated church down and he concluded that it was "arson".

"The church flag was burnt ...a rug and the alter was stripped of the cloth and burnt, " he said.

The police and Fire Department are investigating.

Fr. Peter could not give an estimated cost of the damage but Bernard Lauwyck , the Catholic Church buildings engineer said the damage was "huge".

The St. Luke's church in Pointe Michel is no ordinary church. It was declared The National Shrine, dedicated to Our Lady of La Salette, by Bishop Arnold Boghaert in 1983. And for 15 years, from 2009 to 2014 the people of Pointe Michel gathered pennies and dimes and collected donations from Europe and the United States to renovate their church. The roof and ceiling alone cost more than EC$458,000.

The renovation work also included the beautification of the sanctuary and shrine, tilling of the floors, building the wall panels and colouring of the statues.

The Pointe Michel Church has also had a rich history.

Lauwyck says: "The devotion to Our Lady of La Salette in Dominica goes back to early February 1872, when Rev. Desiré Clément Ardois returned from France with a beautiful statue of Our Lady as she appeared to the two little shepherd children, Maximin and Mélanie on September 19, 1846 in La Salette in France.

"As he was the parish priest of Pointe Michel, he had a small side chapel added to the parish church where he exposed the statue to the veneration of the faithful.

This chapel was blessed together with the statue on December 12, 1889. The Ecclesiastical Bulletin of Roseau reported that in 1873 and 1874 an immense number of faithful found their way to St. Luke's from every quarter of Dominica and since then, year after year, the shrine has been visited by pious pilgrims on the 19th September."

But someone wanted to engulf that rich history in flames on Friday night.


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