Vandals repeatedly target Virgin Mary

July 8, 2008 4:50:19 PM PDT
Houston police are trying to determine if a recent rash of vandalism at a Heights area Catholic church can be classified as hate crimes.As crews work on a major renovation at the century-old All Saints Catholic Church, three different times parishioners have discovered three of their most prized relics reduced to fragments.

Parish Pastoral Assistant Cary Ann Nunn said, "We can't help but want to take care of her (the Virgin Mary), you know, because you feel like she's taken care of us so many times."

The Virgin Mary, depicted in a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, sat in a grotto for more than 60 years, until someone knocked her out and smashed her face.

"People were upset by that," explained Dan Schwieterman with All Saints Catholic Church. "So a group of people put a small, plaster of Paris statue of Mary back in its place, this time as Our Lady of Guadalupe."

Just days later, vandals flipped it upside down, spray-painted it black and left an ominous message.

Schwieterman recalled, "There was a warning that idolatry was a bad thing."

"You're talking about a religious statue, something that means something to a religious community," explained HPD Spokesman Victor Senties. "They obviously saw it as some type of threat."

So now officers in a specialized unit are investigating what they consider hate crimes.

Senties said, "By an unknown suspect showing religious bias, that immediately moves it into that hate crime category."

Police are not sure yet if the most recent incident at the church will be classified the same. Over the weekend, someone knocked a plaster Mary from the grotto to the ground, shattering it.

"You keep wondering how people can do those things to each other," Schwieterman pondered.

The original statue was placed at the church in 1945. The parish leaders don't know its origin, or the exact type of stone it was made from, so they're having it analyzed. They do hope to have it repaired. Meanwhile, the grotto will sit empty.

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