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.
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.
In late August, vandals hurled a large rock through a stained glass window at St. Bernardine Church in San Bernardino and scratched anti-Catholic language on its front sign. Vandals also targeted La Quinta’s St. Francis of Assisi in July, scrawling occult symbols in the parish hall and kitchen. Just the month before, Queen of Angels, still enjoying its new 1,600-seat church, was hit. The anti-Catholic graffiti was discovered by Father Beni Leu, S.V.D., parish pastor.
Fr. Leu quickly got help, but not before parishioners witnessed the damage. He says the criminals marked the church both physically and emotionally.
“Some of the parishioners were very sad. They asked ‘Why did they do this? Why did this happen? Why do they hate us?’ ”
The outcry was similar following an arson at Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in San Bernardino. A side door of the church was lit on fire in the early hours of July 17th.
“The people were surprised. They couldn’t believe someone would attempt to do this,” says Father Rogelio Gonzalez. The pastor was also taken aback since he’d only been there two weeks.
“I don’t think I have any enemies that followed me here,” Fr. Gonzalez laughs then continues more seriously. “Well you know, San Bernardino is a hard place,” he says in reference to local crime and poverty.
But his parishioners rallied in support of their church.
“They were more than willing to do whatever was necessary to fix the door,” Fr. Gonzalez said. “I had people coming forward saying ‘Father, I would like to give a donation to fix the door,’ or, ‘I’m a painter and I can fix the door.’
“In a sense, people had a feeling of unity that this was an attack on us and we’re going to pull together and find a solution to this.”
Fr. Bai won’t be deterred from his ministry as Parochial Vicar at St. Catherine of Siena in Rialto. He returned to his office the day after the assault, despite family pleas to return to his native China.
“We can suffer for the faith, for what we believe,” he says. “A long time ago, missionaries would go to other countries and get killed. It’s noble. I’m lucky I can share this mark as a missionary.”
Fr. Bai says he forgives his assailants and can now even joke about it.
“The stitches just removed the wrinkles around my eyes,” he laughs. “It makes me look younger.”
Full story at Inland Catholic Byte.