Union City police were investigating a vandalism attack on a Catholic church as a hate crime Wednesday night after perpetrators knocked over a cross and spray painted its exterior with satanic symbols on the first day of Lent.
The parish priest at St. Anne's Church decided to leave the desecration for all to see to show what hate can do.
Ash Wednesday mass ended with parishioners having to confront the vandalism.
Father Geoffrey Baraan told his congregation what happened is disturbing.
"I was angry, but there was no hate in my heart," said Father Baraan.
The wooden cross in front of the church was knocked down and a monument to the beatitudes was toppled. On the sides of the church, the vandals spray painted two large pentagrams and wrote the words Seize the night Satan in Latin.
The faces of statues depicting Joseph and Mary were also spray painted black, but the child Jesus was left untouched.
The church caretaker first saw the damage at 7 a.m. Wednesday morning.
"This is really appalling and the community is very upset," said St. Anne's parishioner Peter Petit.
Some were moved to tears.
"This is the first time that I saw a church that has graffiti," said parishioner Ida DeCastro. "This is unbelievable."
Union City police were taking the investigation into the crime very seriously.
"It attacks religion and it's done in a threatening way that has made may people afraid to come here," explained Union City Police Commander Ben Horner.
Despite the venom apparent in the attack, Father Baraan has told his members to forgive.
"They should not react with hatred or with anger, but with react with love and the way Jesus has always taught us," said Father Baraan. "To pray for those who hate us."
Father Baraan said he was very touched when representatives from the protestant, Jewish, Islamic and Buddhist communities came to show support.
On Thursday, the graffiti will be removed and the statues will be cleaned and restored.
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