Catholic diocese donates $50,000 to three black churches damaged by arson attack

The Greater Union Baptist Church in St. Landry Parish, La. was set ablaze on April, 2, 2019. | Screenhot: YouTube

A Roman Catholic diocese donated an estimated $50,000 to three historically African-American churches that were the victims of a series of arson attacks in Louisiana.

Earlier this year, St. Mary’s Baptist Church of Port Barre, Greater Union Baptist Church and Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church of Opelousas were attacked by an arsonist.

Bishop J. Douglas Deshotel of the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette presented the donation last Thursday to the pastors of the three congregations at the site of the former St. Mary’s Baptist, according to local newspaper The Acadiana Advocate.

The donation came from a collection taken up by Catholic congregations in the diocese and it will be equally split up between the three churches.

“Evil brings opportunities for good and this is a good way to do that,” stated Bishop Deshotel, as reported by the publication.

The Rev. Harry Richard of Greater Union Baptist was present for the event and expressed his gratitude.

“When that was taken away from us, not only did it create a fire in our building, but it created a fire in our lives. That fire seems to be burning until we get back to our home,” said Richard, as quoted by The Acadiana Advocate.

“But the love that Bishop Deshotel and the rest of the community has shown has been a river of loving water that is helping put out the fire in our lives.”

From March 26 to April 4, the three churches were attacked by an arsonist, with the three buildings experiencing heavy damage as a result.

Police arrested Holden Matthews, a 21-year-old son of a sheriff’s deputy who in the past had expressed both racist and Satanic sentiments online and offline.

Matthews was indicted on federal hate crimes charges and also faces state arson and hate crimes charges. His trial date has been set for Feb. 10, 2020, according to the Lafayette Daily Advertiser.

In response to the news of the arsons, prominent individuals, including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson, encouraged people to donate to the rebuilding of the churches.

By June, approximately $2.6 million was raised for the churches’ rebuilding efforts, passing an original online fundraising goal of $800,000.

In a speech given at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas in May, Vice President Mike Pence commended the church for its response to the arson, including their forgiving Matthews.

“And to think of churches burning one day after another, and how people might have responded, and to see the way people, here in these churches and this community and across Louisiana, responded is an inspiration to the nation,” stated Pence, saying they “overcame evil with good.”

“I’m deeply inspired, as people are all across this country, by the courage and the resilience of these communities of faith, these families of faith, but also by the generous support of the people of Louisiana and people all across the country.”   

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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