FLUSHING — For 30 years, Gregorio and Rachel Romero gained comfort and strength from the statue of the Blessed Mother that stood outside the rectory of Mary’s Nativity-St. Ann Parish.
They raised their children, now adults, in the parish. Gregorio described how he’d drop them off at school and then stop at the statue to pray before heading off to work.
So the Romeros and fellow parishioners suffered heartbreak last year when a man viciously attacked the statue, destroying it.
But joy and peace returned Sept. 8 when a new statue, installed only the day before, was dedicated and blessed by Bishop Robert Brennan in a ceremony after rosary and Mass.
“For so many years you could come by and say a prayer and then all of a sudden you see this statue without a face,” Rachel said. “It just overtakes you. So we were looking forward to the new one, and it’s just great.”
The event drew scores of priests and fellow Catholics from across the diocese.
Father Jose Diaz, the pastor, scheduled the dedication to coincide with the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, from which the parish gets its name.
He praised staff and volunteers for their hard work installing the marble statue, along with new landscaping, to prepare the site in time for the ceremony.
“The guys took almost three hours trying to put her on the pedestal yesterday,” Father Diaz said. “This one is 1,300 pounds. The last statue was a cast made 100 years ago.”
The new statue is a foot taller, the pastor said. “And she looks like she’s embracing you. Looking at her arms, her embrace, it looks so much more real with this statue.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reports that at least 273 incidents of vandalism or desecration have occurred across 43 states and the District of Columbia since May 2020.
These acts include “arson, statues beheaded, limbs cut, smashed, and painted, gravestones defaced with swastikas and anti-Catholic language and American flags next to them burned, and other destruction and vandalism,” the USCCB reported.
During his homily, Bishop Brennan said the desecration of the last statue was done out of darkness. But, he added, the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that “the light breaks through and conquers darkness.”
Since coming to the Diocese of Brooklyn in late 2021, Bishop Brennan has presided over several ceremonies to restore statuary or other church fixtures damaged in acts of vandalism and desecration.
“There’s something always troubling when you have to do it,” he said after the dedication. “But the one thing that’s common across the board is the love and the devotion of people. Our appreciation for our faith grows even stronger.”
Bishop Brennan and Father Diaz also noted that each act of desecration or vandalism prompts grace and compassion for the perpetrators.
“That’s really the Christian attitude — that we have to pray for those who persecute us,” Bishop Brennan said.
Father Diaz said he was a brand-new pastor when the attack occurred on Oct. 3, 2022, outside the rectory at 46-02 Parsons Blvd. in Flushing.
He went to investigate a loud crash and saw that a man drove his vehicle into the church sign. The agitated driver then tried to run over the priest, who escaped by charging back up the rectory’s stairs.
Father Diaz used his phone to videotape the man as he urinated on the lawn and performed a lewd act on the statue. The attacker then took a heavy car tire jack from his vehicle and used it to smash the statue.
Police arrested the suspect, Jia Wang, and took him to Queens General Hospital for observation. He was arraigned two days later and released without needing to post bail, according to the Queens County District Attorney’s Office.
Wang, 38, of Corpus Christi, Texas, was charged with second-degree criminal mischief (hate crime), second-degree criminal mischief, and fourth-degree criminal mischief. Other charges include first-degree aggravated harassment and public lewdness. He is scheduled to appear next in Queens Criminal Court on Oct. 11.
Father Diaz said the new statue’s dedication brings him joy, and closure.
“I was kind of on edge for some weeks,” he said. “I’d be looking over my shoulder because I had that fear that something like this could happen again. But since then, I’m grateful to the Lord because, through that moment, I think he has brought our community together, and I think you saw that here tonight.”
Gregorio Romero said he, like Father Diaz, felt anxious and unsettled after the attack.
“But then, that’s life,” he added. “People are evil. But we have to bless them. And, like bishop said, we were in darkness and now we’re back with the sun shining behind us.”