Arsonists set fire to the church of Saint-Apollinaire in eastern France this week, after which the parish priest declared, “This was the last thing we needed, given recent events.”
The gothic church of Saint-Apollinaire, whose origins date back to the 12th century, is located in the village of Meximieux, in the department of Ain, France.
In a Facebook post, the parish priest, Father Sylvain, thanked local firefighters, who managed to put out the blaze on Monday afternoon. He also noted that police have arrested the perpetrators of the crime but does not go into detail regarding their number or the motivation behind their action.
“It is our faith that is violated and it is our community that they wanted to strike,” the priest said.
Father Sylvain also extended his thanks to the two people who alerted the Meximieux firefighters, as well as the gendarmerie and the town mayor, who visited the site of the attack.
Despite the damage and pervasive soot, the priest said the collegiate church will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. to gather the faithful “before the Blessed Sacrament and the Virgin Mary.”
“We must redouble our prayers and pray for these individuals. Pray for your enemies,” Father Sylvain concluded.
As a follow-up post, however, the parish announced that the Saint-Apollinaire church will be closed until further notice at the request of France’s department of historic monuments.
While Europe has experienced a growing number of acts of vandalism and desecration of Christian sites, the greatest number of such acts have occurred in France, where churches, schools, cemeteries, and monuments “are being vandalized, desecrated, and burned at an average rate of three per day,” according to reports drawing from government statistics.
French churches and other Christian monuments have come increasingly under attack, with an average of nearly three churches per day targeted for vandalism over the past three years.