A Catholic priest has hit out at "malicious' yobs that set a devastating blaze at a major Scots shrine- but urged worshippers to forgive them.

Father James Grant has told of his 'great sorrow' about learning of the attack on the Carfin Grotto while he was on pilgrimage to Lourdes in France.

The sacred site near Motherwell was set upon by firebugs on Monday who had caused massive damage to cabling and candle holders while the roof appeared to also have been burned.

Memorial plaques for loved ones have also been damaged in the mindless blaze at the Lourdes cave- which is modelled on the famed French site.

Kind-hearted locals have already rushed to the aid of the stricken parish- raising more than £5,000 for restoration just a day after the attack.

Father James sent a special message to distressed worshippers from France urged them to find forgiveness for those who did the 'monstrous deed'

He said: It was with great sorrow that I learned, whilst in Lourdes, that our beloved grotto had incurred vandalism. Whilst some may remark, albeit with sadness, "they know not what they do", I respectfully disagree.

"Unless they are suffering from some kind of mental illness, they knew exactly what they were doing.

"This was a premeditated malicious act. The candles we light in the grotto symbolise both our faith and our love for God.

"The candles lit at this special space in the grotto are symbolic also of our love for our dearly departed.

"A sacred space has been defiled and we are right to be angry.

"I sincerely hope that the perpetrators are caught, to teach them a lesson and as a deterrent to others.

"Nevertheless as followers of Jesus we must find it in our hearts to forgive those who carried out this monstrous deed.

"I am immensely grateful to the many people who have so spontaneously 'rallied to the cause' and have so generously donated towards the cause' of repairing the damage caused. I assure them that they have a special place in the prayers offered during my pilgrimage.

"God is good and so the selfless generosity of so many will have the final word in this sad scenario. Let us pray for the conversion of heart of those responsible that they might come to appreciate the evil nature of their actions."

Opened in 1922 by Monsignor Thomas Canon Taylor, the Grotto welcomes over 70,000 pilgrims each year from across the globe and is open every day of the year.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Church said: "This senseless act of vandalism is especially reprehensible as it has damaged an area of the Grotto which commemorates the dead. It is hoped that Police Scotland will investigate and increase patrols in the area."

Situated in the Parish of St Francis Xavier's in the village of Carfin, near Motherwell in North Lanarkshire, it is Scotland's National Shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “We were made aware of damage caused at Carfin Grotto on Newarthill Road in Motherwell around 12.50pm on Monday, 18 October.

“Enquiries are ongoing and at an early stage.”