A priest shot, a stained glass window smashed, a church set on fire, and a parish tagged with hate speech.
These incidents are all part of a summer crime wave that has targeted Catholic churches and personnel in the Diocese of San Bernardino.
During the last three months, at least four parishes and one priest came under siege, mirroring a worldwide surge in crimes against the Church. Perhaps the most shocking, a paintball assault on Father Zhaojun “Jerome” Bai, S.V.D., in Riverside on August 2nd.
“I felt hurt. I saw blood,” Fr. Bai describes the moment he was violently struck.
Having just celebrated the anniversary of a fellow S.V.D. priest, Fr. Bai was walking to his car parked near Queen of Angels Church when another vehicle pulled up from behind.
“I heard four or five sounds. I thought it was gunshots.”
Fr. Bai was hit in the eyes, causing his glasses to shatter and cut his face. He ran back to the parish for help and ultimately received stitches for his injuries.
Police say six other people were hit as the shooters rampaged across Riverside. At press time, no arrests had been made.
This level of violence is not surprising says Ann Marie Gallant, Director of the Emergency Operations Collaborative for the Diocese. She believes we’re 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,” says Gallant. “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.”
…The local outbreak of crimes against the Church follows a global pattern of attacks against Catholics, from the recent firebombing of the iconic Church of National Gratitude in Chile to the widespread murder of priests in Mexico (19 since 2012) to a sharp rise in anti-Catholic assaults in Scotland to the kidnapping of priests throughout Africa. Following recent terrorist attacks in Spain, ISIS leaders have threatened the Vatican as their next target.
On the national front, Gallant says the Church’s outspokenness on issues like abortion and immigration can cause anger all across the political spectrum, and could be a motivating factor in some attacks that have occurred.
“People knew we had these views and opinions but in the last decade or so we’ve become active in putting it out there, not just talking among our own,” she says. “Pope Francis is encouraging that kind of leadership.”
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