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Artifacts stolen from burnt church

Kent Driscoll
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Nov 21/05) - Religious artifacts are missing after the fire that gutted Iqaluit's Anglican Cathedral.

Two pieces of narwhal tusks were stolen off the distinctive cross at the front of the church.

Also gone is the soapstone base of the baptismal font. The silver bowl and the wooden stand have been recovered, but the soapstone that connected the two disappeared.

Iqaluit RCMP Staff Sgt. Ed North wouldn't comment on the investigation, but did say he expected an announcement on the case in the near future.

Bishop of the Arctic Andrew Atagotaaluk visited the church on Monday and remained stoic while he was followed by the media.

After the television cameras had departed, his strong facade cracked, and he was in near tears describing the fate of the cathedral.

"I have memories of this church back to 1975, when I was first ordained as a deacon," said Atagotaaluk.

The bishop was philosophical about the loss of the building, hoping to turn a physical loss into a spiritual gain.

"Our ministry is going to intensify our outreach. This (fire) confirms that we have not been doing enough," said Atagotaaluk.

"This also gives us an opportunity to re-examine ourselves. All churches are a symbol of God's presence in the community," said Atagotaaluk.

The bishop was joined in Iqaluit by Doug Little, a professional fundraiser who has worked on the Ottawa Tulip Festival.

He was hired by the diocese on Oct. 1, to start laying the groundwork for expansions to St. Judes cathedral, a $7 million project. His efforts to modernize the church will now be transferred to rebuilding efforts.

Nunavummiut won't be expected to shoulder the price tag alone.

"The vast majority of the money will come from elsewhere in the country. The Anglican church has a long history of supporting their Arctic missions," said Little.

Church services continue to be held in the parish hall, next door to burned out parish.

"It is beginning to look more church like every day," said Rev. Ron McLean.

An insurance adjustor and engineer who specializes in oddly shaped buildings is expected in Iqaluit next week. He will be able to decide whether it is more affordable to restore or replace the building.

A new cathedral would be majestic, and McLean was ready to head off criticism of the grand scheme.

"Some people think we are arrogant, but why shouldn't God have the best," said McLean.

Atagotaaluk sees the proposed cathedral as a potential source of Inuit pride.

"The new one will be a symbol of our renewed self image. We come from a long history of not having the best things. We have to show the value of our spiritual side of life," said Atagotaaluk.