Christ the King parish in Gothenburg, Sweden, is holding a day of penance and fasting Friday in reparation for the vandalism of their church.

Fr. Tobias Unnerstål told CNA that the church was planning a Mass of Reparation on the night of Nov. 20. While police continued their investigation into who was behind the vandalism, he said that his Catholic community had focused instead on praying for the unknown perpetrator.

"Everyone says 'let us pray for the perpetrator or perpetrators' and also make penance for the fact that sacrilege has been committed in the Church, which is an attack on Christ himself," Unnerstål said.

On Friday, Nov. 13, the priest arrived at his church to find that the pulpit had been overturned and the altar completely stripped. Hymnals were cleared from the shelves and chairs had been thrown off the sanctuary. A fire extinguisher had been emptied over the votive candles, and a wreath and plaque with a commemoration of those who died this year were also vandalized.

Unnerstål said that the police told him that an investigation into the incident began on Nov. 17. 

He recalled that just days before Halloween the altar crucifix had been stolen and then returned without the corpus. "Subsequently, I learned just a few days ago … that my sister parishes' altar crucifixes were also stolen at the same time, the same afternoon," he said.

Vandalism against Catholic churches is on the rise in Europe. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) published data earlier this week documenting more than 500 hate crimes against Christians in Europe in 2019. 

The majority of incidents involved attacks on church properties, including arson, the destruction of statues of the Virgin Mary, and theft of consecrated Eucharist hosts from tabernacles. 

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Like other Catholic churches in Sweden, Christ the King parish is a diverse and growing community. Mass is offered in multiples languages at the parish, including Swedish, English, Polish, Spanish, Croatian, Tagalog, Slovenian, and Hungarian. There are also Masses in sign language, traditional Latin Masses, and the Maronite Divine Liturgy in Aramaic.

The Mass of Reparation is the initiative of the Polish-speaking community at the parish, Unnerstål said.

Among the different communities within the parish, people have signed up to ensure that someone is always present praying in the parish. This is to discourage further vandalism and avoid having to close or lock the church. 

Catholicism is one of the few growing religions in Sweden, which has been called one of the least religious countries in the Western world. The Catholic Church has gained between 3,000 to 4,000 new members each year due to a combination of immigration and baptism.