Over the past week, two Catholic churches were burned to the ground here at home in the United States and two statues of the Virgin Mary were defaced.
On Saturday, July 11, a man was arrested for setting fire to Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, Florida. According to WKRG, Steven Shields, 23, on Saturday rammed his minivan through the front door of the church, poured gasoline all over the foyer, and then set it on fire.
During the attack, several people were inside the church preparing to celebrate mass. Thankfully, no one was hurt.
WKRG reported that Shields told detectives he smiled and laughed as he described the attack as “awesome.” He also told detectives that he was “on a mission,” and stated that he has problems with the Catholic Church.
Shields is being held without bail and was charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary and evading arrest.
In California, firefighters responded on Saturday to a massive blaze which had engulfed the 249-year-old San Gabriel Mission Catholic Church which is approximately 11 miles northeast of Los Angeles. According to CNN, 80 firefighters from 12 fire agencies fought to quench the flames for three hours.
“During the initial stages of the fire attack, firefighters were able to remove historical artifacts and some artwork from the path of the blaze,” fire chief Steven Wallace told CNN.
The origins of the fire are being investigated and arson is a possibility.
San Gabriel Mission posted a picture of the destruction on Instagram.
Along with the picture, the mission wrote, “We are so grateful and moved by the tremendous show of support from our Mission community during this tragic time. We thank the amazing efforts of our San Gabriel fire department and all the supporting cities that assisted in the fire. Their unwavering efforts to stop the fire saved our altar.”
“Thank you to our Mission family that came to cry and pray alongside us yesterday. You have given us renewed and rekindled strength to rebuild and come back to celebrate our restoration.”
Archbishop Jose Gomez, who is the current Archbishop of Los Angeles and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, responded to the fire on Twitter.
“Friends, what would St. Junípero tell us this morning? I remember his beautiful little prayer: ‘Let us bear every hardship for the love of You and the salvation of souls. In our trials, may we know that we are loved as Your own children,’” Abp. Gomez tweeted.
The mention of St. Junípero Serra is a reference to the statue of the Catholic saint that was torn down in a San Francisco park at the end of June. Father Serra was the founder of nine Catholic missions and helped convert thousands of Californians to Catholicism in the 18th century.
In Boston, police are investigating an arson attack on another statue of Mary that occurred Saturday night. According to the Catholic News Agency, the statue, located outside St. Peter’s Parish, was set on fire damaging the face, head, and upper body of the statue.
In New York, another statue of Mary was defaced on July 10. According to ABC7 New York, the vandal spray-painted the word “idol” on the front of the statue which sits outside Cathedral Prep School and Seminary in Queens, New York.
The school was able to clean off the spray paint following the act of vandalism, and police are searching for the suspect.
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Photo from Ken Lund
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