THIEVES ransacked a church sacristy and stole the entire Christmas collections of €5,000 from a safe.
Fr Joe Shire – who is parish priest in Ballyagran, Co Limerick – said nothing is sacred anymore after the community's parish church was targeted on Christmas Day.
Thieves broke into the church through a rear sacristy door sometime between Christmas Day and St Stephen's Day. Another internal door was also forced open.
Drawers in the sacristy were ransacked and chalices were left thrown on the ground.
After locating a safe, the thieves took it outside, forced it open and stole €5,000 in cash and cheques. Criminal damage amounting to €500 was caused during the incident.
The break-in was discovered by the parish sacristan shortly before 10am Mass on St Stephen's Day.
Fr Shire said all in the Limerick parish have been left reeling.
"We were absolutely shocked and disappointed that something like this could happen during the season of goodwill and that somebody would actually come to a parish church on Christmas night and break down the back door and take the safe out the back and scatter all the sacred vessels on the ground," he said.
"They stole and robbed the monies that were collected from the great numbers of people that we had at the Christmas liturgies on Christmas night and Christmas morning.
"We are all very disappointed in the incident," the priest added.
Fr Shire appealed for anyone who has any information on identifying the culprits to contact investigating gardai.
"All the monies taken in are for the upkeep of the parish properties and the maintenance and paying for the day-to-day running of both churches in the parish – heating, light and upkeep," he said.
"It has been our first experience of something like this in this church since I came out of town. We have lost our garda station in Castletown. It is one of the rural garda stations closing down.
"People have to be aware that there is an increase in burglaries," Fr Shire said.
"We have to be more security aware and security conscious from now on especially when people can get out on Christmas night to do something like that. The boundaries have broken down," he added.
Officers from Newcastle West garda station are continuing to investigate.