A Catholic church in New York City received support and solidarity from the community as hundreds of people came to attend a prayer vigil in response to what appears to be a hate crime involving the toppling of a statue of Jesus and the burning of an American flag outside the parish.
“On such a short notice we all came together to show how strong our Faith is! What an amazing crowd! We are one community! We are one family! We love each other!” said St. Athanasius Church in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn in New York on its Facebook page about Friday night’s prayer vigil.
Friday morning, the church wrote a post about the vandalism. “We are deeply saddened to inform you that the Cross on our Church property was vandalized last night. This exhibition of violence and religious hatred is very disturbing. This is definitely an offensive act not only to our Parish but to the Catholic Church!”
The vandalism occurred Thursday night when an unknown person jumped the fence at the church, pushed over a statue of Jesus’ crucifixion and torched an American flag hanging outside the church, the New York Post reported, adding that the statue broke into pieces.
In a statement released by the Diocese of Brooklyn, the parish priest, Monsignor David Cassato, called it “an act of hatred.”
“… Today is the saddest day of my 20 years here at this parish,” he said. “I went over and spoke to the students in the school about what happened, telling them that hate never wins. We are, and must be, a community that continues to share the message of Easter, that which is of love, hope, and forgiveness.”
The statue of Jesus’ crucifixion, the pastor said, was installed in 2010 to honor the memory of his mother. The parish said it plans to repair and reinstall the crucifix in the same location.
“I went over and spoke to the students in the school about what happened, telling them that hate never wins,” Cassato added. “We are, and must be, a community that continues to share the message of Easter, that which is of love, hope, and forgiveness.”
The NYPD is investigating a possible hate crime.
An online fundraiser has been started by one Antoinette Maggiore to raise $5,000, and $3,000 had been raised by Sunday morning.
“As we all know this past year has been a trying time for many. Many of us have leaned on our faith and church leaders to help us through,” the fundraiser says. “… Sadly, our dear neighborhood church, St. Athanasius, was vandalized in a disturbing act of hatred and violence. I know others, like myself, feel a sense of sadness and grief. The cross fell, but as we believe, if we unite in our sorrow, we will only rise stronger through Christ. Let’s help restore the church that has helped us through our trying times.”