By STEPHEN O'KANE, Staff Writer | Published April 28, 2011
The Welcoming Christ statue, an eight-foot marble sculpture of Jesus that greets visitors and parishioners at St. Peter Chanel Church, was vandalized on Easter Sunday, apparently in the early morning hours before Sunday Masses.
Pink paint covered the hands and face of the statue, worth approximately $80,000, with other obscene images painted on the chest and lower abdomen. According to Father Peter Rau, pastor of St. Peter Chanel, a light solvent used to remove graffiti was applied to the statue, and it has now been restored.
Father Rau wrote a letter to the community in response to the incident, which has been posted on the parish’s website. While shocked at the act of vandalism, Father Rau has been grateful for the response from parishioners and the local community.
“Thank you for all your prayers,” Father Rau wrote in his letter. “After several hours of painstaking work, I am happy to share with you that the Welcoming Christ Statue has been restored to its natural beauty. Since the event was reported a number of phone calls have come into the parish office. These calls have been ones of support from parishioners, Catholics, and non-Catholics, some even from outside the state offering prayers of support for the hurt our parish endured on Easter Sunday morning.”
The Anti-Defamation League, an organization dedicated to fighting bigotry in the United States, released a statement to the press condemning the act of vandalism as a “deplorable attack” and offered to help police with the investigation of a possible motive.
“Our hearts go out to members of the congregation, who arrived for services on Easter Sunday, one of the holiest days of the year for Christians, to find the statue defaced with pink spray-paint and bizarre graffiti,” said Bill Nigut, ADL’s Southeast regional director. “The timing of the vandalism was clearly designed to cause the greatest pain possible to St. Peter’s congregants and is a deplorable attack.”
Volunteer parishioners and local companies assisted with the clean up and provided support for the parish community, which did not expect to find evidence of such an act on Easter Sunday.
“Our gratitude and special thanks go to Mr. John Morley, of The Morley Companies, who had come to assess the situation,” wrote Father Rau. “We are also grateful to all individuals and companies who called offering their services.”
“The Welcoming Christ statue speaks volumes in our ministry of hospitality,” Father Rau continues. “It stands on the lawn to welcome all those who enter the property for prayer, for reflection, for community, but most of all to join us in the liturgical life of the church. The statue even welcomes those who are lost, confused, angry, or hurt. The statue of Christ welcomes all. In the midst of vandalism, the message of welcome and forgiveness emanated from the statue. What messages can we take from this event? One of the many messages may be that nothing will stop us from presenting the crucified and Risen Christ to the world!”