Thursday, September 19, 2013

Church burned then robbed

(My Fox Philly) - Late last month, a massive blaze destroyed the St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church in East Oak Lane. No one was injured, but the 91 year old structure was left in ruins.

Now, as if to add insult to injury, burglars have struck what remains of the iconic church, leaving its members shocked and angry.

Any church community will tell you it's faith is often put to the test. However, for St. Mary the Protectress, which has served the local Ukrainian orthodox community for more than 40 years, faith has been stretched to the breaking point.

"It's a, it was, a beautiful church...a beautiful house of worship," Church Board president John Prasko told FOX 29.

St. Mary's leaders wandered the iconic structure, destroyed by fire just over three weeks ago, in a daze. No doubt wondering how fate could be so cruel.

"Well, it's a double-whammy," said Steve Harris, a member on the church board. "It was bad enough that a lot of things went up in flames and we could never restore this church … to its former glory."

And now this: burglars broke into what was left of the church early Monday evening and stole several candelabras that had fallen to the floor during the fire. They also took eight large candle stands and a gold-plated challis and discus used in weekly services.

In a side room, the church's main chandelier, gleaming in gold-plate but covered in soot, remained.

"It's too big and they got in through that small window in the cellar," explained Prasko when asked why he thought it wasn't stolen. We asked why anything of value was left in the church after that massive August blaze.

"We were told by the insurance company that the inventory had to be taken by them," said Prasko. "Don't touch anything. Don't remove anything."

The thieves didn't get that message. Now, once again, St. Mary's leaders must pick up the pieces, at least those left behind by thieves.

"Who would do such a thing, you know? It's hard for us to imagine that anybody would steal things from a church, and especially when the church and the parishioners have experienced such a tragedy. I don't know, someone who is heartless?" said Prasko.

A witness called police to report seeing two Hispanic men, one with a beard and the other wearing a red shirt, loading the stolen artifacts into a ford pick-up truck and driving off on Monday evening. This parish saw its faith tested by fire last month. Now, members are left to consider what kind of person would steal from them in their hour of darkness.

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