On July 10, a vandal scrawled the word “IDOL” on the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary outside Cathedral Prep School and Seminary. The desecration in Elmhurst was just one example of a series of attacks against Catholic churches across the country during the past two weeks.
In another, the church at the historic San Gabriel Mission in Los Angeles suspiciously caught fire on July 11, damaging the old roof; the reredos, historic statues of Saint Gabriel the Archangel, Saint Anthony of Padua, and Saint Dominic; as well as indigenous artifacts.
San Gabriel was the fourth mission founded in California by St. Junípero Serra. The last two months have been open season for statues of St. Junípero. You have to wonder if this fire was inspired by the same animus that led to the desecration or removal of his statues in California during the recent iconoclastic frenzy we have been witnessing. His statues have been sprayed with graffiti accusing him of being a racist, pedophile, and murderer.
Also on July 11, in Marion, Florida, the Queen of Peace Catholic Church was set on fire after a man rammed his vehicle into the vestibule and poured gasoline in the foyer as parishioners prepared for Mass.
On that same day, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was set ablaze outside of St. Peter Parish on Bowdoin Street, in Boston. The vandal set fire to plastic flowers that a devotee placed in the hands of the statue, which caused the face and upper body to get badly burned. The Blessed Virgin Mary statue was erected at the end of World War II to welcome back soldiers who had fought in the conflict.
On July 15, a statue of Jesus in the courtyard of the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in West Kendall, Dade County, Florida, was beheaded.
Before all those attacks, on Saturday, June 27, there was a protest demanding the removal of the King St. Louis IX of France statue in Forest Park, St. Louis, Mo. Umar Lee, the organizer of the rally, told a local news outlet that Louis IX “was anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, and an anti-black crusader,” adding that “he does not need to be on public property overlooking our city.”
The statue has been in Forest Park since 1906. The city of St. Louis, of course, is named after the saint and king of France.
A group of Catholics who congregated around the statue to pray during the protest were attacked by one of the protesters who threw punches at them.
During the recent protests, there have been extreme activists trying to turn pacific protests into violent chaos.
While we don’t know if the vandalism spree of the July 11 weekend was the work of provocateurs, and we should wait for the results of police investigations still in progress, we can’t be blindsided by these acts of vandalism. The protests that have taken place against racism during the past few months can’t be confused with this bigotry.
As Christians, we need to recognize that racism is probably the most absolute negation of Jesus Christ’s message of love within our society.
However, the attacks against churches can’t be dismissed as mere random occurrences, as they have been portrayed in the media. Catholics, may wonder what the vandals are trying to tell you when they tear down a statue of St. Junípero or even Jesus Christ.
You probably can’t draw a clear conclusion, or think it is just a misunderstanding, but when they start burning statues of the Virgin Mary you should get the message.
Our Lady is usually the target of choice for anti-Catholic bigotry, and that bigotry should be denounced and opposed.