Police are investigating after a historic Catholic church in central Alberta was vandalized and priceless items were destroyed.
The front doors of St. John the Baptist Church, 120 kilometres south of Edmonton, had been pried open. The head of a 100-year-old statue of the baby Jesus was severed. A statue of St. John the Baptist, the tabernacle, a couple of vases and roughly 20 candle holders were also damaged.
“I was in disbelief when I heard what happened,” said Liza McKenzie, administrative secretary for several rural Alberta parishes including St. John the Baptist Church. “It’s so far from anything. There’s no way someone could just happen to come upon it. And to know they broke our statues, it’s just so hard to believe.”
The break-in occurred some time between Sept. 18, when workers cleaned up the cemetery grounds, and Sept. 22 when RCMP were notified.
Laurie Everson reported the incident to police after noticing the church’s doors were wide open. She was visiting the neighbouring cemetery.
“It was so sad to see,” said Everson. “I just can’t believe that someone would come in just to damage stuff in a church. They didn’t take anything, they just wanted to bust everything up. Some of those statues were so old and so nice to have.”
Police say there isn’t much that they can do without witnesses or reports of suspicious activity, said Bernie Szott who lives in Daysland, close to the church. “We don’t have a clue really who could have done this.”
St. John the Baptist Church was built in 1910 and closed in 1987. It had served the now-disappeared rural Polska district in Beaver County. A single Mass is still held at the church every year, around the Nativity of St. John the Baptist feast day on June 24.
Rev. Carlos Nunez, who celebrates the annual Mass, has asked for prayers that police will find those responsible for the vandalism or that they will turn themselves in.
Church vandalism is still relatively rare in the Archdiocese of Edmonton, but crime in rural areas has been a growing concern in Alberta.
In October, Holy Trinity Ukrainian Catholic Church, east of Nisku, was broken into and vandalized. In April, a thief was caught on camera at St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Red Deer.
“It’s sad that people would do these kinds of things,” said archdiocesan spokesperson Lorraine Turchansky. “This highlights the need for us to be more vigilant.”