Catholic Church employee arrested in connection with desecration of burial niches at St Raphael’s cemetery in Hong Kong

Police take 59-year-old man into custody as church increases security patrols and vows to look into putting in more surveillance cameras at Ching Cheung Road site

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 September, 2018, 2:48pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 September, 2018, 9:51pm

A 59-year-old Catholic Church employee has been arrested in conection with the desecration of 89 niches holding funeral urns at St Raphael’s cemetery in Hong Kong.

Police took the man into custody on Monday afternoon, the day after the vandalism was discovered by a security guard patrolling the site on Ching Cheung Road, in Cheung Sha Wan.

While no urns were stolen in the incident, marble slabs that sealed the niches were smashed.

Reverend Dominic Chan Chi-ming, the vicar general of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, confirmed that one the church’s employees had been arrested and said he was shocked by the damage that had been caused.

“Why would someone do this at a cemetery - a place for the deceased to rest in peace? It hurts a lot for the descendants,” he said.

In response to the incident the church doubled the number of security guards patrolling the cemetery from two to four.

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Families who flocked to the cemetery on Monday to see if any of their ancestors had been affected criticised the insufficient number of security cameras, and Chan said that was something the church would look into.

“We are discussing if we need to further strengthen [such arrangements], as this is an open area,” he said.

“Definitely [more cameras will be installed], but we need to discuss this with our [security] company first.”

Initial reports had suggested 85 niches had been damaged, but a statement from the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese raised that figure to 89, as of 4pm on Monday afternoon.

A spokesman for the diocese said the process of identifying the damaged niches was ongoing, while an updated list of the locations and serial numbers of those affected was available on the website of the vicar general of Hong Kong.

The damaged niches are located in sections 48 to 54 of the cemetery, with between four and 18 niches vandalised in each section.

Fung Yat-ming, communications chief of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, added: “Colleagues at St Raphael’s Catholic Cemetery are working hard to check all the niches and put together a list of niches damaged.

“When the list is done, colleagues will contact family of the affected/damaged niches.”

A police source said the force did not know what might have prompted the vandalism.

“It appeared only the niches’ marble sealing slabs were broken, but no property was stolen,” he said.

On Monday morning, staff at St Raphael’s, one of five Catholic cemeteries run by the diocese in the city, began taking pictures of the broken niches, while using black plastic bags to temporarily cover the damage and prevent water from getting in.

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A woman who had come to check on her parents’ final resting place said theirs was one of the niches that had been damaged.

“I heard the news yesterday so I come today to check, and the niche was shattered,” she told the Post. “I left my information at the office and they asked me to send in the photos and they would contact me later.

“They did not mention how long it would take to rebuild. Nothing was stolen, we did not put any valuables in there.”

Phyllis Nip, who arrived to check her father’s niche, criticised the lack of security and said staff should have provided more information to concerned family members.

“There is definitely not enough security here,” the 40-year-old said. “I have called many times this morning but no one answered. A morning should be enough for them to at least work out which niches were broken.”

Fortunately for Nip her father’s niche was not one of the 85 vandalised – damage she still does not understand.

“I don’t understand why people would attack the deceased,” she said. “I was so worried that I came alone during lunchtime. They should install more CCTV [cameras] around to monitor.”

Lisa Chung also visited the site to see if her husband’s urn had been disturbed.

“I saw the news last night and immediately came today,” she said. “I was so worried that I couldn’t sleep the whole night. Luckily, it’s not broken, God bless.”

The 73-year-old said she went to the office when she first arrived at the cemetery, and was asked by staff to take a picture if the niche was broken.

Yau Lau-kam, whose mother’s ashes have been interred at the cemetery for 20 years, said while there were security cameras on the premises, he did not think the culprit would be arrested.

“I don’t think cameras will work because it’s too spacious here,” he said.

A 65-year-old man, surnamed Tsang, called for the installation of more security cameras.

“I have five or six relatives buried here,” he said. “I came after hearing the news. There should be more security. It is perhaps someone who was looking for valuables.”

Additional reporting by Clifford Lo