In San Bernardino as in Chile, the Church is facing hostile times.
A priest shot with a paintball gun, stained glass windows smashed, an arson attack against one Catholic parish church, and hate slogans painted on the walls of another … Are we talking about events in the Horn of Africa? Or maybe in Aleppo (in Syria), or in Pakistan? Or maybe Chile or Mexico, where attacks against Catholic property and/or clergy have made the news recently?
No: we’re talking about the wave of violence surging against the Catholic Church in the diocese of San Bernardino, California. The targets of these attack have been the Catholic churches of this diocese—headed by Bishop Gerald Barnes—and the diocese’s personnel.
Inland Catholic Byte (ICB), the official news outlet of the San Bernardino diocese, denounced the situation in an article published on September 11, 2017. It reports that, during the past three months, at least four parishes and one priest have suffered violent attacks, reflecting a world-wide trend of attacking the Catholic Church.
I thought they were gunshots
The case that has caused greatest outrage in San Bernardino was the paintball attack suffered by Fr. Zhaojun “Jerome” Bai, S.V.D. in Riverside last August 2. Fr. Bai, describing the moment of the attack, told ICB, “I felt hurt. I saw blood,” as read in the original article published by BYTE.
The attack took place while the priest was headed back to his car, parked near Queen of Angels Church, just moments after celebrating Mass in celebration of a fellow priest’s anniversary of ordination.
A car pulled up behind him. “I heard four or five sounds. I thought it was gunshots,” Fr. Bai told BYTE’s Natalie Romano. Fortunately, they weren’t bullets, but paintball pellets; they shattered his glasses, and the shards of glass from the lenses cut his face. Six other people were shot by the same attackers as they “rampaged across Riverside,” the article reports. Nonetheless, no arrests have yet been made.
A hostile environment for the Catholic Church
This level of violence “is not surprising,” Ann Marie Gallant, Director of the Emergency Operations Collaborative for the Diocese, told ICB. She went on to say that Catholics are “living in hostile times.”
“There’s so much pent up anger today and we’ve developed into a society that doesn’t have civility and restraint,” Gallant said. “The political environment that we’re in now does not provide good leadership or examples on either side. As a society, I think we’re losing a moral compass,” she added.
Towards the end of August, vandals threw a large rock through a stained glass window of St. Bernardine Church; and as if that were not enough, they painted anti-Catholic slogans on the church’s front sign. In June, Queen of Angels Church (where Fr. Bai was later attacked) was painted with anti-Catholic graffiti.