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Vandal destroys Mary statue at Buffalo church, leaves anti-Catholic message

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

A Catholic church on Buffalo's East Side was struck by a vandal late Tuesday, who removed a statue of the Virgin Mary from a garden, severely damaged it and left behind a note warning that "this building will be destroyed." The suspect is known to the neighborhood and witnesses suggested to WBFO that mental health may be a factor in the incident.

The incident happened at St. John Kanty Church on Broadway. The statue was removed from a garden on the corner of Broadway and Brownell Street. Its face was smashed out and hands broken off.

"We learned about it this morning when the staff came in," said Father Michael Burzynski, parish administrator. "The statue had been knocked of its base and was in the middle of the parking lot with a note."  

That note, in addition to suggesting the church building would be destroyed, stated "Stop worshiping Mary. Worship God. Catholics are a man-made religion," according to Father Burzynski. 

The suspect, whose name was not revealed, is said to be known to the neighborhood. As of late Wednesday, no arrests had been reported.

"We have witnesses and film, so we know exactly who it is," said Father Burzynski. "The store across the street had security cameras."

One of those witnesses is Miguel Richardson, also known as Nate, who lives on Brownell Street near the church parking lot. He told WBFO he heard loud noises that he first thought were gunshots. He discovered they were the sounds of the suspect striking the statue with an aluminum baseball bat.

"I got to the front of my yard and saw a guy with a white mask on, and all black on," he said. "He was beating up the statue. When me and another guy at the store hollered at him and told him to stop it, he took off running."

Richardson says he later spotted and confronted the suspect at the store, located across the street from the church. He told the young man he was wrong for what he did and shared what the suspect told him.

"He was mad at God. He asked God for something and God didn't give it to him," Richardson said. "He was really upset at God."

Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFO
The tall pedestal in this corner garden was the perch from where the Mary statue was removed before being vandalized late Tuesday.

He went on to describe the suspect is "an alright kid but not bright." At least one other individual speaking to WBFO hinted that mental health issues may be a factor in the incident. 

Even Father Burzynski suggested the motive behind the attack could be a mix of misguidance and mental illness. He said if he had the opportunity to speak to the suspect, he would want to know why he carried out the attack. He also wants to inform him that his thoughts on Catholics "worshiping Mary" is mistaken. He explained that Catholics, when praying to Mary, are not worshiping her but instead asking for intercession in prayers to God.

"It is the same way as you ask a living individual to pray for you, if you have a special intention," he said. "With Mary, we know that Mary was the first Christian, and so we ask her help sometimes, psychologically, when we need to pull out all the stops."

He also acknowledged that he and other Christians, as a part of their faith, must remember to forgive. At the same time, he and others are hopeful the suspect gets the help needed to prevent another angry act of vandalism, or worse.

"We are forgiving and shall forgive but at the same time we want to take every precaution that it doesn't happen again or happen to anyone else," Father Burzynski said. "If this person was destroying an inanimate object, we want to be sure (the next time) doesn't involve a human being."

A cost to replace the statue was not immediately known though one groundskeeper suggested the parish would appreciate any community support to get a new one.  

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.