By Father Christopher Gray
Special to the Intermountain Catholic
(Editor's note: Here is Fr. Gray's account of what happened Aug. 25, when he arrived in Magna to celebrate Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish and found the church and rectory vandalized.)
When I arrived, around 8:25 a.m., I saw the police outside the church and Gaylynn Huffman sobbing on the sidewalk. I peeked inside the church and saw the hallway with the smashed statues (a particularly poignant image), the broken glass of the door, the disorder everywhere. Knowing I could not enter while the police were investigating the scene, I looked at the tabernacle and saw that the door was still closed – in fact, the sanctuary seemed to be untouched. The missal was still on the altar, the candles and crucifix were all in the right position, and the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was the only one left intact in the church.
I cancelled the 9 a.m. Mass and asked people to either return for the 11 a.m. or try the Masses at Saints Peter and Paul Parish or St. Francis Xavier Parish. I waited outside with the people until the police were finished, around 9:45 a.m. A distribution chalice was found in the lawn; one of the parishioners started driving around the neighborhood and found one of the church's fire extinguishers in the lawn of a house a couple blocks away.
When I entered the church, I began to make a more thorough check. The holy water fonts were filled with beer, which was also over the floor outside the sacristy where the computer that runs the bells was smashed on the floor. The sacristy was missing the Evangeliarium, which I later found on the steps going up to the loft. Two more communion chalices were unaccounted for. The whole sacristy, including all the books, vessels, and vestments, was covered in a thick powder, which I surmise to be the contents of a fire extinguisher. This powder was also in hallway and, less heavily, in the nave of the church. Glass things from the sacristy, including the cruets, were smashed on the floor. The tabernacle key was not in its place in the sacristy, nor was it amid the broken glass and plaster elsewhere in the church. All the wine was gone.
The sanctuary itself was relatively unaffected, just dusty from the fire extinguisher and with broken glass that had ricocheted from elsewhere. The tabernacle, however, had been moved 1.5 inches from its position of the night before.
Elsewhere in the church, glass votive candles had been smashed and the cover to the baptismal font thrown on the grown and stomped on.
The hall looked unaffected. The kitchen, however, was a noxious disaster of all the (many) contents of the refrigerator thrown into a slurry on the floor.
In the rectory I found similar destruction. A cake had been smeared on the wall over broken glass and the contents of a flower pot thrown over the carpet in the meeting room; elsewhere in the rectory was a similar sight: smashed glass, smashed statues, smashed mirrors, smashed lamps, occasional punched-through drywall. Going downstairs, it was clear that the entry point had been the outside door to the kitchen, which had a footprint from being kicked in; the door jamb was ruined from the break-in. Downstairs the liquid laundry detergent had been smeared everywhere, another bedroom and the furnace room had been ransacked, and a flatscreen TV was missing.
Fr. Javier Virgen's personal quarters seemed unaffected.
After taking pictures, I instructed the church's maintenance man, Chance, to nail the back door shut. Seeing that it would be feasible to celebrate the 11 a.m. Mass, I blocked off the back of the church where the most glass was and locked the front door. I asked for volunteers to sweep the relatively small amounts of glass from the nave. The only entry to the church was through the doors of the hall. One of the parishioners brought a bottle of wine and a bottle of water. I dusted off a green chasuble and made vessels ready. A spare key to the tabernacle was brought from the parish office and the Blessed Sacrament was inspected – no evidence of disturbance. Mass in English for the 21st Sunday began at 11:20 a.m.
My homily included the following points:
1. I'm angry, and this is an appropriate response.
2. But there's more to it; We who have the benefit of the Church must go by the narrow gate (cf the Gospel we read), and this means we are called to forgive those who did this.
3. But even for those outside the Church, like the good thief or these villains, there is still hope for salvation.
4. Because it's not by our merits, but Christ's that we are saved, all of us.
5. Anti-pelagianism and Gratia Praeveniens: Our works do not win us salvation, and God is free to offer grace to whomever he pleases, because He desires the conversion and salvation of all people, including those who did this.
6. Solidarity in suffering with Christ in Syrian and Egyptian attacks. We experience in a small way what they live daily.
After Mass I invited anyone to stay for a Rosary to be said in reparation; everyone stayed.
After Mass the head of the parish finance council, Melanie Dern, began to coordinate finding a cleanup agency to take care of the more difficult and dangerous parts – he kitchen and the glass. Several men of the parish began the work of removing the statues to the parish work shed for later inspection by Fr. Javier, leaving the area ready for cleaning.
After the 1:30 p.m. Spanish Mass, Utah Disaster Kleenup began work on the kitchen. The Blessed Sacrament was transferred to the tabernacle of repose because the key was still missing. Parishioners volunteered to keep watch through the night.
I'm proud of the people of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish because of their resilience, of their commitment to their church, of their unwillingness to let the malice of the moment overcome them, and of their willingness to get right to work in putting their church right again.