Just after confessions began the afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 12, at the Basilica of St. Josaphat, staff at the visitor’s center noticed a small group of men in the lower church who had come in to use the restroom. The men became belligerent with one of the employees and were asked several times to leave. After defecating in the hallway, the group walked past the gift shop and staff heard a loud crash around the corner as the men pulled down the statue of St. Francis and began to smash it to pieces.

Three days later, after Fr. Lawrence Zurek filed a police report and it was determined that the statue wasn’t salvageable, Fr. John Clote, parochial vicar at St. Josaphat, sent out a tweet notifying the community of the vandalism and asked them to pray for the wounded souls who destroyed it.

His tweet said: “Our grand Basilica was desecrated on Saturday. We pray for those responsible whose hearts and minds are darkened by hatred. Please pray an ‘Our Father’ for them, asking Jesus to shower them with graces for true Conversion. Statues can be repaired with glue. Souls need prayer.”

Fr. Clote is a self-declared Twitter novice but said that he likes to try to talk about events that happen at the Basilica to keep the community involved and make them feel included. This was his first time having to tweet anything negative but he felt an immediate need to call the community to prayer and discipleship.

He said, “the St. Francis statue cost somewhere between $8,000 and $9,000, so it isn’t easy to replace; we don’t know yet if insurance will cover it or if it’ll be a total loss, but that’s not really the point. The call to discipleship as Catholics isn’t always easy; most of the time, it isn’t easy. It’s rewarding because we’re following the mandate of the gospel and we’re following Christ, and we want those broken souls to know his healing power.”

He said the Basilica won’t be destroyed because of one smashed statue, but believes that the whole incident is a great opportunity to remember that Christ died for those vandals, too, and as his disciples and followers, we as Catholics are expected to pray for them and live as shining examples of God’s forgiveness and love.

Fr. Clote said he was surprised by the overwhelming positive reaction to his tweet, a call to prayer that is still being shared across Twitter and Facebook.

“I think it resonates with people because justice and revenge and retaliation might be the natural, unchecked, impulsive response to something like this, but if we really trust God, we know that statues can be replaced, but with human hearts and with the human soul, it requires prayer and often sacrifice. It is the Paschal Mystery. It is why Christ died for our sins. He was the perfect sacrifice, God the Father allowed the Son to die in our place for the sins committed.”

Fr. Clote said he wants people to understand how much Our Lord can do with prayer and sacrifice born out of love, and that it takes on an added element of divine grace when we love our enemies.

Several days after the statue was destroyed, a group of five homeless people went in to the gift shop at the Basilica and apologized to the staff on behalf of the group who destroyed the statue. According to an employee, they said they were grateful the facilities were still open to their use and promised they were going to speak to the vandals.

Fr Clote said, “I believe that because of prayer and our response, those folks on the street came back and apologized, and we’re so grateful for that. It was sad and unfortunate, but we have Masses and funerals, and we have the sacraments to provide, we have all the things we do here on a daily basis and someone pulling over a statue and acting as a vandal is not going to stop us from pastoring and ministering.”

Donations to cover the cost of a new St. Francis statue can be sent directly to the St. Josaphat Basilica office at 2333 S. Sixth St., Milwaukee, WI 53215.