Catholic churches across North America suffered a devastating week of vandalism and arson from July 10-16, according to a report from the Aleteia news agency.
The week-long spree of vandalism, presumably connected with ongoing protests, included the desecration of statues of Jesus and Mary — some of which were “beheaded or spray-painted” — along with graffiti on church structures and fire, John Burger reported.
On July 10, a vandal sprayed a statue of the Virgin Mary that stands in front of Cathedral Preparatory School in Queens, New York, with the word “IDOL.” Although the school’s security camera picked up footage of the individual committing the crime, police had not yet apprehended the perpetrator as of the report’s publication this past weekend.
The rector of Cathedral Prep, Father James Kuroly, called the incident “an act of hatred.”
“Obviously, this tragedy saddens us deeply but it also renews our hope and faith in the Lord as he has shown his goodness in the many people who have already reached out to us,” said Fr. Kuroly. “We are sincerely grateful for the help we have received as well as the prayers. Please continue praying for those who committed this act of vandalism and hatred toward Our Lady and the Church.”
The following day, a 24-year-old man named Stephen Anthony Shields crashed his minivan into the front of Queen of Peace church in Ocala, FL. Shields got out of the car and poured gasoline around the church lobby and lit it on fire, causing extensive damage. Police eventually arrested the suspect, and charged him with arson and resisting arrest, as well as attempted second-degree murder, since parishioners were attending Mass at the time of the attack.
That evening, an arsonist set fire to a statue of the Virgin Mary in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, outside the church of St. Peter’s Parish. The perpetrator set fire to plastic flowers in the hands of the statue, causing smoke and flame damage to the face, head, and upper body. The statue had been erected decades ago as a memorial to servicemen killed during World War II.
Earlier that day, a fire broke out at Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in Los Angeles, a mission founded by St. Junipero Serra in 1771, destroying the building’s timber roof and sections of the interior. Agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are reportedly investigating the possibility that the fire was an arson attack.
Los Angeles Archbishop José Gomez called the Mission the “historic cornerstone and the spiritual heart of Los Angeles and the Catholic community here.”
Still that same day, vandals beheaded a statue of the Virgin Mary and knocked the monument off its pedestal at Saint Stephen Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“What a strange time when live it. Over the weekend, a [sic] outdoor statue of the Blessed Mother was beheaded at St. Stephen Parish in Chattanooga,” tweeted Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville. “This is occurring at various spots throughout the United States.”
On July 14, two marauders desecrated a statue of Jesus at Sacred Heart church in Calgary, Canada, using spray paint and a marker or chalk. Police were still investigating a similar case at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in Ontario, where intruders had cut the heads off several statues with a power saw or grinder.
During the night between July 15 and 16, vandals spray-painted the entrance to St. Joseph’s church in New Haven, Connecticut, profaning the building with satanic symbols and others.
“At some point between about 9:00 p.m. last night and 6:00 a.m today, there was an act of vandalism at St. Joseph church, where words and various symbols including a satanic one — an upside-down pentagram within a circle — were painted on the outside doors of the church,” said Dominican Father John Paul Walker, the church’s pastor.
The priest asked parishioners to “pray to Our Lord in reparation for this sacrilege, and to St. Michael for protection against all the powers of hell. Please pray, too, for the perpetrator of this action, who is clearly a very disturbed individual in need of serious help.”
The Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, said on Facebook that the incident followed “an apparent trend of desecrating Catholic spaces throughout the nation, as evidenced by incidents in Chattanooga, Queens, Boston, Sacramento, and Ocala.”
“The underlying motive of these sacrilegious attacks is clear: to intimidate and instill fear in the hearts of those who worship Christ,” the Archdiocese said. “However, our cherished Catholic faith has survived for 2,000 years in the faces of many different oppressors, and it is not about to yield now.”
“Therefore, we remain unafraid and resolute in our faith, and we will pray for a conversion of the hearts of those who wish to terrorize us,” it said.
“Today, even in the midst of anti-Christian sentiment and actions, however, we do not answer hate with hate,” it said. “To the contrary, these attacks make our love and unity stronger, and our prayers ever more steadfast.”