TWO CATHOLIC churches have been burned to the ground in suspicious circumstances on First Nations reserves in western Canada.
On Monday morning, the Sacred Heart church and the St Gregory's church, both Catholic and both made largely of wood, were destroyed in blazes which began in the early hours.
The fires occurred on National Indigenous Peoples Day, and come just over a month after the remains of over 200 children were found buried in unmarked graves on the ground of a former residential school, The Guardian reports.
These schools, many run by Catholic and other Christian churches, were set up to force Canada's Indigenous peoples to assimilate into modern Canadian culture, and sexual and physical abuse of children were rampant in the institutions.
The discovery contains chilling parallel's to Ireland's own Catholic Industrial schools and Mother and Baby Homes, where the bodies of hundreds of children and babies were found in unmarked graves.
The most notorious saw the remains of up to 800 children found buried in a septic tank on the grounds of a former Mother & Baby home in Tuam, County Galway, but a report released earlier this year indicates that up to 9,000 babies died in the just 18 homes investigated across Ireland.
While police have not yet indicated that the destruction of the two Catholic churches was arson, a fire chief said the team had identified liquid accelerant, such as gasoline, on the burnt remains of St Gregory's Catholic church.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police sergeant Jason Bayda said that while they are aware of "recent events", they will not speculate on a motive and will instead "allow the facts and evidence to direct ... investigative action".
The Penticton Indian Band said in a statement that both they and the Osoyoos bands felt "disbelief and anger" at the burning of the churches, which "provided service to members who sought comfort and solace in the church".
"We understand the grief and rage felt by our people across the country after the discovery of unmarked graves at government/Catholic-run former residential schools," they added.
"This is a symptom of the intergenerational trauma our survivors and descendants are experiencing, however we have supports to help deal with these emotions in a more healing way.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed anger earlier this month that Pope Francis and the Catholic church had refused to apologise for their role in industrial schools.
Mr Trudeau, who is himself a Catholic, said he is "deeply disappointed by the position that the Catholic church has taken now and over the past many years."
"We expect the church to step up and take responsibility for its role in this and be there to help with the grieving and healing, including with records."