One-month-old Alfie – the newest parishioner of St Augustine’s Church in Londonderry – was baptised at a service in St Peter’s Church, near the Foyle Bridge, on Sunday morning, oblivious to the bomb attack and follow-up security operation which had disrupted his planned christening at ‘the Wee Church on the Walls’ and brought part of the city centre to a virtual standstill.
Fifteen hours earlier, yards away from St Augustine’s, a van bomb had exploded outside the city’s courthouse, just minutes after a group of young people had walked past the vehicle.
The attack was “an act of utter recklessness” the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Ken Good said, which had shown “a callous disregard for the lives and safety of local citizens and visitors alike.” The PSNI had described the bombing as “unbelievably reckless”. Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton said, "Clearly, it was a very significant attempt to kill people here in this community. Thankfully, the local community and the Police Service acted bravely together and we got everybody away just in time.”
While the bombers were hijacking a fast food delivery vehicle to transport their device to the city centre, Rev Canon Malcolm Ferry was with a group of six young people preparing for Sunday morning’s service – planned as a Christingle Family Service with Holy Baptism. He was standing outside the church hall, awaiting a pizza delivery for the young people, when he was told there was a bomb in the area.
“While someone was hijacking a pizza truck to set off an explosion, we were ordering in pizza for the young people of this city,” Canon Ferry said on Sunday evening. He and a parish youth leader, Noel Glenn, led the young people safely out of the area, and the teenagers got to enjoy their treat just across Craigavon Bridge in Domino’s pizzeria.
The explosion outside the courthouse was captured on CCTV. The area had been cordoned off following a bomb warning, so there were no injuries and little damage was caused to property in the vicinity.
A PSNI cordon remained in place throughout Sunday’s follow-up security operation, forcing the cancellation of morning services at St Columb’s Cathedral and St Augustine’s. The Archdeacon of Derry, Ven. Robert Miller, invited parishioners of both churches to attend worship, instead, at St Peter's Church of Ireland on Culmore Road or Christ Church on Infirmary Road.
Canon Ferry and Archdeacon Miller led the relocated baptism service at St Peter’s, during which baby Alfie was baptised and Christingle candles were lit to symbolise the Christian message. Bishop Good and his wife, Mary, joined the congregation to support and encourage all those in the city affected by the overnight bomb attack. “We had a dark night, last night, in the city – again,” the Bishop said, “but we’re here to remind ourselves, in this season of Epiphany, the light of Christ wins in the end.”
He congratulated the parishioners of the Cathedral and of St Augustine’s on their resilience, and thanked Archdeacon Miller and the congregations of St Peter’s and Christ Church for responding so warmly and hospitably. Bishop Good also commended Canon Ferry and Mr Glenn for the calm way in which they had led the young people to safety the previous evening.