.- Parishioners at St. John Vianney are determined to rebuild after an April 16 arson attack destroyed their Hacienda Heights, Calif. church.
âThe church is completely destroyed, I mean down to ashes and dust. The pews, organ, everything,â parish pastor Msgr. Tim Nichols told the 5 p.m. Sunday Mass. He presented remnants of the altar and tabernacle and said only a few vessels and vestments were saved.
âThe church that (founding pastor) Msgr. James OâCallaghan built is gone. But weâre going to build another one, okay?â he said, causing fervent applause. âWe will rise again.â
The Mass was celebrated in a parish hall on the church property that is typically used for wedding receptions and other events. More than 1,000 people attended.
Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala, who lives two blocks away from the 5,000-member church in Los Angeles County, was awakened by a neighbor pounding on his door soon after midnight on Saturday morning. From his front lawn he could see the fireâs flames shooting 150 feet into the air. He rushed to the church to join priests and parishioners watching the blaze destroy the church and the rectory.
The fire burned for almost three hours before firefighters were able to extinguish it.
âThe investigators have been quite definitive to me, this was very definitely a deliberate act,â Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, told the Los Angeles Times.
âItâs heartbreaking,â Msgr. Nichols told parishioners at Mass. He noted the responsorial psalmâs despondent refrain âMy God, My God why have you forsaken me?â and pondered whether the disaster was ârewriting the book of Job.â
However, he rallied parishioners.
âBefore there were churches, there was us, right? Weâre the church, right? â¦ Weâre a community first and then we build the church buildings,â he affirmed.
He said reconstruction will take âtwo to three yearsâ and âmillions of dollarsâ because money from insurance will certainly not cover the full cost.
Alice Ameluxen, 43, grew up in the parish and her parents were among its founding parishioners.
âMy happiest and saddest memories are here,â she told the LA Times. âI just feel like I lost my home.â
The fire caused an estimated $8 million to $10 million in damages. Parishioners have created a Facebook page called âRebuild St. John Vianney Churchâ and a website to help draw attention to the rebuilding effort.
Present and former parishioners are using the page to share their memories and pledge support.
Various crimes have targeted Catholic churches in California in recent years. In January one or more vandals spray-painted the misspelled phrase âKill the Cathlicsâ on churches in Anaheim and Irvine.
In May 2010 vandals broke into and ransacked St. Rose of Lima parish school in the city of Maywood in Los Angeles County.
Holy Rosary Church in Woodland near Sacramento has been victimized by theft and vandalism four times since 2007. St. Stanislaus Church in Modesto suffered a burglary and vandal attack which desecrated the sanctuary, knocking down and damaging four statues of the Virgin Mary.
The Facebook page and the website for rebuilding effort can be found at: http://www.facebook.com/RebuildStJohnVianneyChurch