Boston police are investigating an arson attack on a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary Saturday night, the second attack in the U.S. on a statue of the Virgin Mary in two days, and during the same weekend in which two Catholic church fires are being investigated for arson.
Police were called to reports of a fire on Bowdin Street in the Dorchester neighborhood Boston at around 10 p.m. on July 11.
Local police confirmed that a statue of the Blessed Virgin, located outside the church of St. Peter’s Parish, had been set on fire and suffered damage. Local police and firefighters responded to reports that an unknown individual had set fire to plastic flowers in the hands of the statue, causing smoke and flame damage to the face, head, and upper body of the statue.
The fire at St. Peter’s is the latest in a series of fires and acts of vandalism which have struck Catholic churches in the last two days.
On July 10, the Diocese of Brooklyn announced that New York City police were investigating the vandalization of a statue of the Virgin Mary at Cathedral Prep School and Seminary in Queens.
Security footage shows an individual approaching the 100-year-old statue shortly after 3 a.m. Friday morning and daubing the word “IDOL” down its length.
Fr. James Kuroly, rector and president of Cathedral Prep, called the incident “an act of hatred.”
“Obviously, this tragedy saddens us deeply but it also renews our hope and faith in the Lord as he has shown his goodness in the many people who have already reached out to us,” said Fr. Kuroly. “We are sincerely grateful for the help we have received as well as the prayers. Please continue praying for those who committed this act of vandalism and hatred toward Our Lady and the Church.”
In addition to the attacks on the two statues of Mary, on Saturday morning sheriffs in Marion County, Florida, reported that deputies were called to Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala, which was set aflame while parishioners inside prepared for morning Mass.
Stephen Anthony Shields, 24, was later arrested and charged with attempted murder, arson, burglary, and evading arrest, after reportedly admitting to crashing a minivan into the church and then setting it on fire.
According to a Saturday evening statement from the sheriff's office, Shields poured gasoline in the church’s foyer and ignited it, after crashing his minivan through the parish's front door. Shields then drove away in the minivan, leading officers on a short chase before he was stopped. According to local media, Shields told police he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia but is not currently taking prescribed medication.
Also on Saturday, a fire ravaged the San Gabriel mission in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a 249-year-old mission founded by St. Junípero Serra.
Gomez called the mission the “historic cornerstone and the spiritual heart of Los Angeles and the Catholic community here.”
Federal and local officials are still investigating the cause of the fire at the San Gabriel mission, with no determination yet made. On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported that agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were investigating the possibility that the fire was an arson attack.
Also this weekend, San Diego police officials said that a fire at Calvary Baptist church at 12:30 a.m. Sunday morning was “suspicious” and was being investigated by the department’s Metro Arson Strike Team.
Calvary is an historically African American church, though its website says it has become a “multi-cultural faith community” in recent years.