A statue of Mary lifting Jesus off the cross was one of two statues vandalized at St. Patrick’s Parish. Photo courtesy of St. Patrick’s Parish

Editorial: A disturbing trend

  • July 30, 2020

The reports were scattered at first, isolated news stories throughout the year of a statue toppled here, another spray-painted with graffiti there. This summer they have come more frequently — senseless acts of anti-Church vandalism that have grown bolder and more destructive.

The stories of church vandalism and suspected arson cases have been flowing out mostly from the United States and Europe, but even here, in Canadian towns large and small, vandalism against churches has taken threatening turns.

In Calgary, a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was defaced, white paint splashed in a circle around the head. In Markham, Ont., statues behind St. Patrick’s were knocked over and the face of Mary smashed. In Sudbury, Ont., eight statues in the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes were beheaded. In Guelph, a swastika was painted on the Mary statue in front of the Basilica of Our Lady.

Why? There are no easy answers, but it should never be shrugged off as minor mischief.

The statues that surround our churches are physical representations of our faith, reminders that the Church’s history is built on real people and real experiences, people who deserve to be emulated. They are worth our protection.

Christian communities have a long history of being targeted of course. Each year the Open Doors World Watch List details violence against Christians. The latest list revealed attacks against more than 9,000 Christian places of worship in 51 countries last year, as well as the murder or imprisonment of more than 12,000 people who were guilty of nothing more than being Christian.

The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe claims anti-Christian crime has risen 285 per cent in the last 10 years. Its director, Ellen Fantini, draws a correlation between the rise of radicalized movements and the attacks on churches.

“Churches are lightning rods for activists,” she says. “And each group has their own reasons for choosing to attack a church. Churches can represent the patriarchy, authority, tradition, homophobia, the Christian West, etc. … But all these groups are more active these days.”

It is true that hate crimes motivated by religion in this country are relatively small — 639 in 2018 — but it is also a vastly under-reported crime. The sad truth is that statues, and indeed churches, are seen as public spaces and thus vulnerable, despite heightened security measures,

So what do we do? First, we need to be vigilant about security at churches. In the wake of a 2019 attack on a mosque in New Zealand, the Canadian government pledged $4 million per year in grant money for extra security for places of worship, schools and community centres. It needs to be money well spent.

In true Catholic spirit, it wouldn’t hurt, either, to follow the advice of Fr. Ian Duffy, the pastor of the Guelph church where the monument to Mary was desecrated: “We’ll be praying for whoever did it.”

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