Father Francisco Baigorria, pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola parish in Buenos Aires, has expressed sadness and concern over the Sept. 25 desecration of his church, reportedly by students from a near-by high school.

"This has caused tremendous spiritual and moral harm, because they committed sacrilege," Fr. Baigorria told AICA news agency that day.

The students destroyed numerous artifacts in the parish, among the oldest in Buenos Aires. They set fire to a row of pews and the celebrant's chair and painted anti-Catholic graffiti on the walls and floor. One of the messages said, "The only church that enlightens is that which burns."

Upon discovering the vandalism, Fr. Baigorria notified the police, and worked most of the morning cleaning up the parish so as to say Mass that afternoon on one of the side altars. Mass may not be said on the desecrated main altar. Archbishop Mario Poli of Buenos Aires determines when and how the main altar will be re-consecrated.

Officials determined that the desecration was the work of five students from the Buenos Aires National High School, as the "only way" the church could have been accessed was through the passageways that connect the two buildings.

"It has been confirmed (that the kids did it) because the only way they could enter at night is through the tunnel" linking the church with the high school, Fr. Baigorria said.

When the vandalism occurred, the school was occupied by students protesting a curricular reform. The occupation ended Sept. 27 after 10 days. Juan Manuel Cuello, president of the student body, said that "naturally we are worn out after ten days sleeping in the school without taking classes. We reached a consensus to end the takeover but educational reform is ongoing and must still be halted."

On Sept. 25, Cuello had denounced the profanation of St. Ignatius parish and said a delegation from the school would be sent to apologize and to offer to pay for the repairs.

He added that the students who were involved in the vandalism incident have "acknowledged their mistake, and we repudiate this act and we ask that the appropriate investigations be carried out."

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Fr. Baigorria has said he met with officials of the high school, who said they were saddened by the incident and pledged to punish those responsible for profaning the church.

"They need to determine what they are going to do, but first they need to find out who was responsible and then what steps they will take."

The vandalism was denounced by a number of Argentine groups, including DAIA, which represents the country's Jewish community.

"DAIA, committed to combatting all forms of discrimination … extends expressions of solidarity to our Catholic brethren over such grievances," the group stated.