CV NEWS FEED // A fire occurred at a Catholic church in Orlando late on Saturday night, causing damage to almost all of the church’s interior.
The fire has spurred concerns about anti-Catholic violence, as it came on the first anniversary of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Pro-abortion groups have set fire to and otherwise attacked and vandalized over 150 Catholic properties in response to that decision.
The Saturday fire apparently started on the altar of Incarnation Catholic Church. Carl Humphreys, who owns a laundromat across the street, was the first one to see the fire, at around 11:30 p.m.
“Late at night, we were filming a music video in the laundromat,” he told CatholicVote. “When I came out, I saw the smoke and I realized right away that there was a fire.”
Humphreys immediately ran to the church and banged on the door, but no one was inside. Humphreys said that he was the only one outside, so he called 911.
“Eight fire trucks came with first responder vehicles and put the fire out in around 15 minutes,” Humphreys said.
There was no one in the church at the time of the fire. Fr. William Holiday, the pastor of Incarnation, said that the interior was destroyed except for the vestments, hosts, and an image of the Blessed Mother, which were in the relatively unharmed sacristy.
Dwight Saathoff, a parishioner at Incarnation, told CatholicVote that he saw the interior of the church the morning after the fire.
“I was amazed at the amount of damage,” he said:
The altar and all around the altar was completely destroyed. There was nothing recognizable. There were some very old stained glass windows facing east – all of that was completely gone. The wooden beams on the ceiling were scorched black.
Saathoff said that the other parishioners were stunned, but dealt with the damage by coming together as a community.
“In the morning, people looked like they were dazed,” he said:
There was the unspoken question of ‘how are you’ when you made eye contact, and you could just see the shock in their eyes. Everyone got busy right away, trying to salvage things from the sacristy. People are forming committees; people are stepping up to all the things that need to happen when a tragedy like this occurs.
Saathoff said that the parish has been thriving for the past few years.
“We’re a very close-knit group of people very much in sync about our mission,” he said. “Almost all parishioners were previously at other parishes. During COVID, we were open sooner and with more regularity than most other parishes because we’re part of the Ordinariate.”
Incarnation is a church in the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. The Ordinariate is similar to a diocese and was created in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI for Anglican converts to Catholicism. The parishioners are still in full communion with the pope while retaining certain elements of their traditions.
According to Saathoff, the parish tripled in size because of the COVID policies in place elsewhere. He also credits the church’s beautiful liturgy and community with drawing more people in.
“Ninety-nine percent, if not 100% of parishioners are there very intentionally,” Saathoff said. “Very few actually live around the church. Some people drive an hour one way. There’s just a reverence – it’s a very traditional-style liturgy.”
Fr. Holiday carried on as usual, holding a Mass in the parish social center and continuing to minister to the needs of his parish.
Bishop Steven Lopes, bishop of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, did not respond to a request for comment on the fire.
Authorities have not confirmed whether the fire was caused by arson. An investigation into the cause of the fire is still ongoing.
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