Hundreds of Brooklynites converged at a beloved Bensonhurst church on Friday after a vandal desecrated the house of worship — toppling a crucifix, burning an American flag, and defiling the building’s facade.
“This was truly an act of hatred and today is the saddest day of my 20 years here at this parish,” said Monsignor David Cassato of St. Athanasius Roman Catholic Church, who discovered the wreckage at around 8 am Friday on his walk from the rectory to greet students at the the church’s catholic academy.
Cops say the scofflaw entered the grounds of the parish, located at 6120 Bay Parkway, in the early hours of May 14 and tore down a large cross with a statue of Jesus affixed to it, causing significant damage to the iconic marble image.
The perp then ripped down an American flag that was hanging from the front of a church building and burned it, according to authorities, who say the act of vandalism is now being investigated as a hate crime.
While the crucifix — installed in 2010 in memory of Cassato’s mother — holds a special place in the monsignor’s heart, the liturgy leader encouraged churchgoers young and old Friday not to let hate win.
“I went over and spoke to the students in the school about what happened, telling them that hate never wins,” Cassato said. “We are, and must be, a community that continues to share the message of Easter, that which is of love, hope, and forgiveness.”
Locals echoed the monsignor Friday evening at a massive vigil outside the church, attended by more than 400 locals.
“The large turnout for the vigil on such short notice was a testament to the strong faith of the people of the parish of St. Athanasius,” said Brooklyn Diocese spokesperson John Quaglione. “If the intent of this vandal was to deter those who believe and worship here, they clearly failed. While deeply saddened and shaken by this hateful act, the people of St. Athanasius will move forward united in proclaiming a message of peace, love and tolerance.”
But the spur-of-the moment observance hasn’t been the only showing of solidarity for St. A’s.
An online fundraiser for the parish — which plans to repair and reinstall the fallen fixture — has raised nearly $4,000 toward a $5,000 goal in just two days.
In a plea to donors, the GoFundMe’s organizer, Antoinette Maggiore, called on those who have leaned on their faith in the last year to pay it forward to their local parish.
“As we all know this past year has been a trying time for many. Many of us have leaned on our faith and church leaders to help us through,” Maggiore wrote on the platform. “Yesterday, sadly, our dear neighborhood church, St. Athanasius, was vandalized in a disturbing act of hatred and violence. I know others, like myself, feel a sense of sadness and grief. The cross fell, but as we believe, if we unite in our sorrow, we will only rise stronger through Christ.”
Maggiore further called on her fellow Brooklynites to “help restore the church that has helped us through our trying times.”
Anyone with information in regard to the incident at St. Athanasius Church is asked to call the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477) or for Spanish, 1-888-57-PISTA (74782). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the CrimeStoppers website, or reaching out on Twitter @NYPDTips. All calls are strictly confidential.