CONEY ISLAND — As police continued their search for the vandal who damaged a statue at Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace in Coney Island, donations poured in from parishioners and church supporters eager to see the statue repaired or replaced.
On Sept. 11, a man climbed over a fence outside the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Solace and threw a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the sidewalk on Mermaid Avenue.
So far, the largest single donation has come from the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic service organization, which gave $10,000 to the church to help pay for a new statue to be built.
“The desecration of our Catholic statues and churches is a grievous crime against all people who value religious freedom,” Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson said in a statement. “Together with Pope Francis, our bishops and faithful everywhere, we stand against violence, hatred and bigotry.”
The Tablet obtained a copy of a letter from Anderson to Father Javier Flores, the church’s administrator, in which Anderson noted his organization’s connection to Our Lady of Guadalupe and its contribution toward replacing the statue.
When he was installed as the leader of the Knights nearly 20 years ago, Anderson dedicated the organization to Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“News that this depiction of the Blessed Mother was targeted is, therefore, a cause of pain also for us,” he wrote in his letter dated Sept. 17.
It’s not clear if the church intends to have a new statue built or use the donations to repair the damaged statue and then put funds toward maintenance.
Remarkably, the statue remained mostly intact — suffering damage to the face, hands, and base — after the vandal threw it on the sidewalk.
Father Flores said he will be talking to his parishioners about what the next step will be. The Knights will also be brought into the discussion.
“We are so grateful to the Knights of Columbus for this generous donation. It is overwhelming,” he told The Tablet.
Our Lady of Solace is also asking parishioners and others to make donations online via its page www.givecentral.org. The goal is to have a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe in place by her feast day on Dec. 12, Father Flores said.The vandalism took place at approximately 11:40 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 11. Our Lady of Solace is located on the corner of West 17th St. and Mermaid Avenue. The statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which had only been purchased three years ago, stood on the Mermaid Avenue side of the building.
A video released by the New York Police Department captures the image of the man standing in front of the church and talking to another person. The man can be seen climbing over the fence, climbing up the side of an 8-foot-tall waterfall, and then pulling the statue from its base. The man is then seen throwing the statue to the sidewalk. The suspect fled on foot west on Mermaid Avenue.
Volunteers picked the statue off the sidewalk and brought it into the church.
Police described the vandal as a light-skinned male with a beard. He was last seen wearing a gray cap, a black shirt with the word “Brooklyn” on the front, and black shorts.
Anyone with information is asked to call the New York Police Department’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782). The public can also submit tips by logging onto the CrimeStoppers website at https://crimestoppers.nypdonline.org/ or on Twitter @NYPDTips.
“[The vandal] must have been one strong guy. I don’t know what the statue weights but it’s probably heavy,” parishioner Henry Mayzick told The Tablet.
Mayzick, who has been attending Mass at Our Lady of Solace for 16 years, said he is happy funds are being raised for the statue: “It’s the right thing to do.”
Our Lady of Guadalupe, named Patroness of the Americas by St. John Paul II in 1999, is venerated by Mexicans and Latinos.
“We’re very upset about the vandalism,” a woman attending morning Mass at Our Lady of Solace on Sept. 18 told The Tablet. “We have a large and wonderful Mexican community in our church and this is terrible for them.”
The woman, who said she has been coming to Our Lady of Solace her entire life, added that Mexican parishioners worked hard to raise $4,000 to buy the statue in 2017.
The new or repaired statue will be put in the same place, Father Flores said, while noting that it is important to all of Coney Island and pedestrians would often stop by and say a prayer.
“Store owners from across the street on Mermaid Avenue told me they loved looking out their windows and seeing her,” Father Flores said.