Free Presbyterian and Roman Catholic churches in Fivemiletown have expressed solidarity with each other after burglars hit both churches on the same night.
Police said that the Clogher Valley Free Presbyterian Church was entered between 3pm on Tuesday and 9am on Wednesday and a camera and sum of cash stolen.
The PSNI also reported that entry was gained to another nearby church, St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, also on Ballagh Road, between 6pm on Tuesday and 9.30am on Wednesday. On that occasion nothing was stolen but extensive damage was caused to an internal door in the building.
Free Presbyterian cleric Rev Peter McIntyre said his church is part of a complex which includes Clogher Valley Independent Christian School.
As a result of the disruption and police operations in the building, the school had to cancel its annual last day of school Christmas party, causing deep disappointment to the 22 pupils.
“They smashed in through the window of the minister’s room, ransacked drawers and cupboards, stealing around £450 in total,” he said.
“They also took the video camera we use for relaying and recording church services.”
The money was a combination of children’s dinner money and cash they had raised for missionaries, he said.
The upstairs door into the computer room was also broken through.
“The chapel in Fivemiletown was robbed last night down the road,” he added.
“I think it is just atrocious that thieves are burgling places where people are worshipping God – especially at Christmas time when we all really cherish Him who came to live among us.
“Yet here we have people wrecking and stealing. It says a lot about the people who did this.”
School principal Rhonda Carscadden said: “Today was the last day of term when we always invite parents of the children in to have lunch and for the school party.”
However, the event had to be cancelled due to the damage and police investigation, causing major disappointment among pupils, she said.
Normally, older pupils organise the games and bring their younger brothers and sisters along to join in.
One six-year-old boy told her: “This is the worst Christmas party ever.”
Rev Brendan Gallagher at the nearby St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church said burglars also broke into their building via a window and ransacked the building.
“We had some people gathering for morning mass who were visibly upset,” he said.
“It is upsetting for them to see their local place of worship ransacked, especially for older people who are so familiar with the place.”
He was aware of the burglary in the neighbouring Free Presbyterian church.
“We share in their annoyance and upset just a few days before Christmas,” he said. “We want to express support for them too.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster visited both churches and met both clerics to offer her support.
“They were both very similar burglaries, both entering through the windows and obviously looking for money,” the Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA said. “They are only about half a mile apart.”
She understood the two clerics had contacted each other to offer moral support.
“It is disgraceful that anyone would target a church building and it is vital that those responsible are brought to justice,” she said.
This is not an isolated incident, she said, and she will be discussing “rising levels” of burglary in the Clogher Valley area with the PSNI.
Clogher Valley DUP councillor Wills Robinson said: “To break into any building at Christmas time is disgraceful but to break into a church is to be condemned in the strongest terms.”
Detectives said a silver-coloured Peugeot car believed to have been involved in the incidents was abandoned on Ballagh Road and has been recovered by police for further examination.