Byline: HARRIET ARKELL;GRAHAM KEELEY
THE parents of murdered schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman were today steeling themselves for what they insist will be a "celebration" of the youngsters' lives at Ely Cathedral.
The 5pm service will be led by the vicar of Soham, the Rev Tim Alban Jones, who has worked with Kevin and Nichola Wells and Leslie and Sharon Chapman to design a "positive" tribute highlighting the good to have come out of the tragedy.
But this morning the 38-year-old parish priest, himself a father of three young children, admitted he viewed what happened to the girls as an act of pure evil.
He said: "It is undoubtedly a heinous thing. Murdering two innocent girls is a wicked, wicked, horrible crime [and] in my language this is evil."
However Mr Alban Jones, vice-chairman of the governors at Soham's St Andrew's primary school in Cambridgeshire, attended by the girls, said the murders had not shaken his faith in God.
"The whole thing is just all too terrible for words," he said in a newspaper interview. "I would say that God is suffering with those who suffer. But the question of how God allows these things to happen is right at the heart of the Christian problem of evil and suffering - theodicy is the technical term." The vicar, who said the two 10-year-olds "shone" among the tightknit-Fenland community, will preach to the 2,000-strong congregation of friends, family and police officers expected at the service. He told The Times: "I have had to write the four most difficult sermons ever in a row.
Preaching is not what I regard as my greatest gift. I am a parish priest, and will always be a parish priest. I am looking forward to the day when I can be the anonymous vicar of Soham again."
Today, however, he will address his parish amid the imposing surroundings of the vast Norman cathedral. Already bouquets of flowers from the people of Ely and beyond cover its stone floor, with messages from well-wishers from as far as North Wales and Devon.
The ticket-only service will be attended by many of the girls' primary school friends, and older pupils from Soham Village College, where Holly and Jessica were due to start.
Mr Alban Jones, who has spent much of the past week with the girls' parents, added: "They want this to be a joyful celebration of the two girls' lives.
And they also want to take the opportunity to say thank you to the community and everyone who has helped and supported them since the girls went missing."
Holly and Jessica vanished while walking near Soham Village College on 4 August. …