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After fires set, pastor encourages people to remember ‘we are the church’

Several churches were vandalized July 9-10, part of an increasing number of acts against churches recently

BETHESDA, Md. — A Catholic church in the Washington suburb of Bethesda was one of three houses of worship along the same road to be victimized by vandalism the weekend of July 9-10.

Firefighters responded at around 2 a.m. July 10 to fires set inside St. Jane Frances de Chantal Church, which also was vandalized. Twenty-four hours earlier, firefighters responded to fires set outside North Bethesda United Methodist Church a few blocks away.

Pete Piringer of the Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service said in a statement that firefighters found a “significant active fire” inside St. Jane Frances de Chantal, which is in the Archdiocese of Washington.

Piringer added after firefighters extinguished the blaze, investigators determined the fire was arson.

In a tweet, Piringer noted investigators found damaged headstones and broken wood pieces scattered near Wildwood Baptist Church.

Piringer said an open investigation was underway involving the two fires and noted the similar circumstances, locations and apparent times of the vandalism. No motives or suspects were immediately announced by investigators.

The fires and vandalism at St. Jane Frances de Chantal caused Sunday Masses to be shifted to the school gymnasium. Two vans and cleanup crews could be seen outside the church that afternoon.

“Last night our church was vandalized. Statues were thrown down, books shredded, the Stations of the Cross pulled off the walls, the tabernacle desecrated. It is a horrific event for us as a church,” Father Samuel Giese, the pastor, said at the noon Mass.

“However, what is important to remember especially now is that we are the Church,” he said. “We are the living stones. We are the body of Christ. And as long as our faith is strong and we are faithful, then we are fine, we are absolutely fine.”

In the Diocese of Arlington in Northern Virginia, at St. John Neumann Church in Reston early June 26, “people reported they’d seen smoke coming from mulch outside the church, then later it was discovered there was graffiti vandalism on the church,” as well as on the sign in front of the church, said Billy Atwell, the diocese’s chief communications officer.

“The parish immediately contacted law enforcement,” and officers were reviewing camera footage to assess what happened, Atwell said. “Any type of vandalism is unfortunate … but when it’s done because of a group’s religious beliefs, it takes on a whole new tone that’s particularly concerning.”

Also on July 10, in the Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, the Church of the Ascension in Overland Park fell victim to “an overt act of hatred and incivility,” an archdiocesan statement said.

Parish buildings, including a statue of Mary, were extensively defaced with red spray paint, and law enforcement was notified.

In June, a coalition of pro-life leaders asked the U.S. Department of Justice to vigorously investigate increasing attacks on churches, pregnancy centers and pro-life organizations over the abortion issue.

Last fall, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reported at least 104 incidents of vandalism against Catholic properties have occurred across 29 states since May 2020.

Incidents include arson; statues beheaded or with limbs cut, smashed, and painted; gravestones defaced with swastikas and anti-Catholic language and American flags next to those gravestones burned; and other destruction and vandalism.

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