(This story originally appeared in the Bradenton Herald)
MANATEE — Father Benjamin Medeiros was out of town this week when he received an email from Father Joseph Connolly, pastor at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Catholic Church.
There was vandalism in the church, the email read. Attached was a photo of a statue of a male saint whose robes had been spray painted in white with “666,” the number of the “beast,” meaning the devil.
St. Padre Pio’s bronze face and hands were also painted white.
The side of a building behind the statue also had spray-paint messages. One read “JESUS LIVES,” another “Geting (sic) USED by 666.”
A kneeler before the statue was also defaced with “666” across it.
When he saw the photo, Medeiros said he thought a number of things.
“I was disappointed that somebody would attempt to deface a religious statue but then I thought: ‘What would be the reason for such a thing?’ and I could only identify that there is a certain lack of respect for other people’s property,” the 65-year-old said. “And in this case, other people’s faith.”
According to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, parish secretary Maryellen Smith reported someone spray painted a building and one of the church’s statues between 5 a.m. and 6:45 a.m. Tuesday. Deputies estimated the damage at $950.
There were no witnesses and the area lacked video surveillance.
The church is located at 6600 Pennsylvania Ave., in southern Manatee County.
“We’re taking this as an isolated incident. We haven’t had anything like this,” said sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow. “This doesn’t appear to be gang graffiti. Just hearing what was written there, it very well could have been juveniles.”
Born Francesco Forgione in Italy, St. Padre Pio was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002. He was well known for having stigmata in his hands, feet and side. Stigmata are marks corresponding to those left on Jesus’ body by the Crucifixion, said to have been impressed by divine favor on the bodies of St. Francis of Assisi and others, including Pio.
Just a few months ago, Medeiros said the church reported to the sheriff’s office a trailer parked out back with the words “Satan” and other symbols on it.
Anyone who might have thought they were hurting the church, Medeiros said, is “greatly mistaken.”
“Because this is a religious place and that’s a religious statue, it’s only a symbol of our faith and our faith is not destroyed or damaged by it,” he said. “It brings forth a bit of sorrow that the damage was done and a concern for those persons or person who committed it that this may be just the beginning of what they would want to do to others.”
Medeiros said he’s not sure how to remove the markings on the statue because it’s made of bronze. He said the church has to make sure whatever is done doesn’t affect its surface.
Smith, one of the first people to notice the vandalism, said she was shocked somebody did this.
“But then I went into saying the ‘Our Father,'” the 58-year-old said, referencing a Christian prayer commonly known as the Lord’s Prayer.
“The ‘Our Father’ goes into forgiveness, and that’s where I stand right now,” Smith said. “Forgive those who have trespassed against us and that’s what they did — they trespassed against us. They’ve been forgiven.”
Below, Smith reacts to the vandalism at the church.