Attacks against Christians in general and Catholics in particular are nothing new. Blatant persecution has ensued from the time of the Roman Empire to the recent killings of our brothers and sisters in Syria, Iraq, and North Africa, which has been a painful cross for the Church to carry. Another constant in all these periods of oppression has been the destruction of the symbols of our faith. There are very few instances, if any, where the killing of Christians has not been accompanied by damage to churches and religious images. Often, the destruction of religious symbols is the first manifestation of religious intolerance.
Regretfully, attacks against Catholics in the United States were normal in the history of the country until the mid-20th century. The English-speaking colonies frequently enacted restrictions on the practice of the Catholic faith and expelled priests and religious men and women, with notable exceptions in Maryland and Pennsylvania, where at times Catholics could practice peacefully. Following the general sentiment of Protestants of the time, it was considered that Catholics could not be good citizens of the colonies due to their loyalty to the Pope. After the war of independence from England, in the 18th and 19th centuries, Catholics from Germany, Italy and Ireland migrated to the United States in large numbers finding a still hostile environment, where they were looked at with distrust and sometimes faced outright discrimination.
The perseverance of these courageous men and women and their truly Christian attitudes, along with their increasing numbers, opened up areas in a society which began to accept them, allowing the Catholic faith to grow to the point that it could hold its own next to the more established Protestant churches. Finally, in 1960, a Catholic was elected President of the United States. As this glass ceiling was being broken, society was embarking on one of the most radical changes in history causing the Church to face new challenges that snowballed into a series of reforms that produced a gamut of advantages and problems for the advancement of the mission of the Catholic Faith.
“..the anti-Christian voices within the protest have reached unprecedented levels in this country…”
Under these new conditions, the animosity against Catholic institutions has evolved and taken new and subtle forms. In part it is because many Catholics do not feel the same commitment to the principles of our religion. Many have abandoned some or many of the fundamental principles of Catholicism and have taken a “laissez-faire” attitude towards grave errors and sins. Also, those who are moved by philosophies contrary to our beliefs have at times developed blatantly confrontational anti-Catholic attitudes. Am I exaggerating?
On May 7, 2019, while still dark, an attempt to damage the Catholic Church of Saint Matthew in El Paso, Texas took place. An incendiary device (possibly a Molotov cocktail) was thrown toward one of the windows which it missed and a fire broke out on the outside of the building, causing damage to the façade. Other incidents have continued in the city. Six days later, on May 13, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. This time the device broke the window, but it bounced back and again the damage was again limited mostly to the outside of the premises. One month later, on June 15, an arsonist was finally successful, igniting a fire inside the San Judas Tadeo Catholic Church building, burning the church’s back pews. St. Thomas Aquinas Church was ransacked on December 6, and two fires were started: one in the office area, where a bible was burned, and the other inside the church, where an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe was burnedas well. Is it a coincidence that a satanic group was organized in El Paso just one year before these events? To be honest, even this group has, at least externally, manifested against the destruction of these churches.
This series of events has not been solved despite the intervention by the FBI or the reward offered to obtain information regarding the perpetrators. As it happens with such mysteries, theories abound ranging from the possibility of an angry teenager that dislikes his or her confirmation class teacher, to someone trying to get at the Church due to the child abuse scandal, or maybe even to a satanic cult. This last theory gained momentum after the final incident where two crosses were hung upside down and satanic symbols were left in various places of the edifice.
Even more concerning are the recent events where images of Saint Junipero Serra and the Blessed Virgin Mary and various Catholic churches  have been desecrated in relation to the recent protests over racial discrimination and police brutality. Without question, the rage caused by the killing of George Floyd is completely justified, but the anti-Christian voices within the protest have reached unprecedented levels in this country to the point of calling for the destruction of images of the “white” Jesus Christ and the burning of four Catholic churches within a 48-hour period on the weekend of July the 10th to the 12th.
What should our response be to the rising attacks against Catholics? First, start by continuously praying for those who wish us ill and for those who have suffered prejudice in all these recent events. Second, demand that authorities abide by their duty and protect the Church’s property and our religious freedom and to bring justice for all.
Hector Zepeda, MD