Blessed Mother statue at D.C.’s National Shrine vandalized

National Shrine Vandalism February 15 2024 The vandalized statue of “Mary, Protector of the Faith” on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. The vandalism was discovered around 2:30 p.m. Feb. 15, 2024. | Credit: Alex Cranstoun/BNSIC

In an incident that police are treating as a possible hate crime, a statue of the Blessed Mother in a prayer garden near a prominent Washington, D.C., basilica was damaged by an as-yet-unidentified assailant Thursday. 

The statue, located on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, appeared to have been struck in the face with a hammer. Light fixtures along a walkway in the garden were also shattered.

The statue is located in Mary’s Garden, which according to the National Shrine’s website is shaped in a circle to symbolize eternity. The life-size statue called “Mary, Protector of the Faith” by Jon-Joseph Russo portrays the Blessed Mother lovingly cradling the infant Jesus. The garden and statue were dedicated in 2000. 

Monsignor Walter Rossi, rector of the basilica, said in a statement to CNA that a visitor praying the rosary in Mary’s Garden contacted a staff member to report damage to the statue of the Blessed Mother. The vandalism was discovered around 2:30 p.m. Feb. 15 and was likely a recent occurrence, Rossi said, as security staff inspects the garden as a part of regular rounds.

“Although saddened that acts of this nature take place, I am more concerned about the individuals who perpetrate such activity and pray for their healing,” Rossi said.

The D.C. Metropolitan Police Department informed CNA that the incident is “under investigation as a potential hate-bias offense.” In Washington, D.C., a hate crime is defined by police as “a designation that makes available to the court an enhanced penalty if a crime demonstrates the offender’s prejudice or bias based on the actual or perceived traits of the victim.”

Tom Lynch, supervisory public affairs specialist for the Metropolitan Police Department, told CNA via email that there is currently no reliable suspect information to distribute.

The latest incident is not the first instance of vandalism at the Marian shrine. In late 2021, a marble statue of Our Lady of Fatima outside the National Shrine suffered “irreparable damage” in an attack with a mallet or hammer-like tool. Police shared surveillance footage that shows a man wearing a mask approaching the statue and using the tool to strike at the statue’s hands and face, sending pieces of marble flying. 

That statue was valued at $250,000, according to a police report obtained by CNA at the time. That case was not treated as a hate crime, police said.

Though not an instance of physical damage, a pro-abortion group drew wide condemnation from Catholics, including Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington, for projecting pro-choice slogans on the facade of the National Shrine during a Mass and Holy Hour on the eve of the March for Life in 2022. 

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