Suspected arsonists targeted Scotland’s national shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes on Sunday night, in the latest in a series of incidents at Catholic sites.

The fire on Oct. 17 caused damage to Carfin Grotto, located about 15 miles outside of Glasgow’s city center, adding to the financial strain on the shrine that welcomed more than 70,000 pilgrims a year before the coronavirus crisis.

John P. Mallon, the co-founder of Sancta Familia Media, which handles press inquiries on the shrine’s behalf, told CNA on Oct. 19: “It has saddened us all at Carfin as we approach our centenary next year of the opening of the Grotto on Oct. 1, 2022.”

“COVID has reduced a lot of our annual intake by reducing pilgrimages so we are already on a tight budget before this attack.”

“The fire was quite fierce and set deliberately by the piling of items together and setting them alight.”

The Scottish Sun newspaper said that police had received a report relating to the fire and that inquiries were at an early stage.

Mallon explained that the fire damaged memorials to deceased relatives in the shrine’s Lourdes memorial cave, dedicated in 2009 by Bishop Jacques Perrier of Tarbes and Lourdes,

Sancta Familia Media.
Sancta Familia Media.

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“The iron candle stands have been completely melted and fire-damaged and are unusable and some of the plaques have damage to their letters,” he said.

“We are waiting for further information from police and we will need to do more security checks and structural checks to the cave, including lights and cables.”

Sancta Familia Media.
Sancta Familia Media.

The shrine, built by hand by local parishioners opposite St. Francis Xavier’s church in Carfin, opened in 1922. It is accessible year-round, with daily Masses and confession, Eucharistic adoration, novenas, and processions.

Carfin Grotto has launched a crowdfunding campaign to cover the costs of reparing the fire damage.

Catholics are a minority in Scotland, comprising just 16% of the total population of 5.5 million people.

But the Catholic Parliamentary Office of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said in 2019 that Catholics were “disproportionately targeted in terms of religiously aggravated offending.”

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A Scottish government report found that Catholicism was “the religion that was most often the subject of reported abuse, with 319 charges for 2017-18,” out of a total of 642 charges.

Another official study said that there were 660 religiously aggravated charges recorded in 2019-20 — 24% higher than in 2018-19.

A spate of recent incidents has alarmed Scotland’s Catholics.

In July, a priest was attacked by a man wielding a glass bottle as he prayed at a Catholic cathedral in Edinburgh but escaped without injury.

In August, a man was arrested and charged in connection with a devastating fire at St. Simon’s, Partick, a 163-year-old Catholic church in Glasgow.

Vandals struck at St. Patrick’s Church in Wishaw, North Lanarkshire, in the early hours of Oct. 18, damaging plant pots.

Mallon said: “We do not wish to close the current 24/7 access to the Grotto. It has been a place of prayer and solace for over 99 years, a welcome place to all.”

“However, we need to tighten security as we hear almost daily attacks, vandalism, and damage to Catholic churches across Scotland. Catholics on the ground are concerned and believe more needs to be done at a national level.”