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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Hundreds of Christmas cribs have been smashed, burned and vandalized across Italy in a binge of violence unparalleled in recent memory.
Statues of the Baby Jesus and the Holy Family have been beheaded, stolen or hanged — in one shocking incident even impaled on an iron pole in a public square.
In the town of Ivrea, near Turin, firefighters were called to extinguish a blaze in the church of San Maurizio on Jan. 4 after a 46-year-old woman with a history of arson set fire to a crib near the altar. The fire destroyed valuable paintings and frescoes, as well as two antique painted tables and the covering of the baptismal font.
The perpetrator confessed to the crime, even though she said she was unable to explain why she did it.
Meanwhile, on the same day and in the same town, another arsonist set fire to a crib in the church of San Salvatore, destroying the altar linen. The two churches are near one other, close to the historic city center.
Edoardo Cerrato, bishop of Ivrea, called for acts of reparation and an investigation, noting that "we have seen beheaded figurines of the Child of Bethlehem and His Most Holy Mother" in other parts of Italy.
"The investigation will perhaps identify the perpetrators and understand the motive behind what, for now, can be seen as desecration of sacred images and churches," he said.
Monsignor Cerrato initiated reparations on the evening of Jan. 4 by offering the statuette of the Child Jesus to be venerated and kissed by faithful Catholics gathered in the church of San Ulderico.
In the town of Mogliano Venetto, vandals hanged a figurine of the Baby Jesus using an electric cable to encircle his neck while keeping it raised off the ground.
A mother who witnessed the "nightmarish" and "macabre" destruction said the vandals had also scattered several plastic cups among the straw, using the nativity scene as a garbage can.
Bishop Corrado Pizzaiolo of the diocese of Vittorio Veneto reacted to what happened in Mogliano:
Why so much bitterness on the little infant? I hope it is an act of mindless vandalism, born more from boredom and unconsciousness than from the desire to cause real damage to our symbols. The seriousness of this fact, however, is not so much that the image of Jesus is profaned, but that some fools hang a defenseless child in a cradle.
Locals lamented that this was one of the seven cribs vandalized in the region.
A statue of the Child Jesus, placed in the manger in front of the parish church of San Sebastiano, Arbus, in southern Sardinia, was beheaded by a group of vandals who then brought the severed head to the municipal cemetery.
Mayor Antonello Ecca condemned the sacking as "hitting our Christianity in the heart" and said it was "serious that today there are still people capable of committing an unspeakable gesture such as having damaged the crib."
Former deputy mayor of Milan and regional security assessor Riccardo De Corato tied the vandalism to an incident in San Benedetto Po, Mantova, where four 16-year-old Muslims of Moroccan origin, born in Italy, were arrested after destroying a crib. On New Year's Eve, thugs stoned a manger in San Bernardo park erected by the La Braila association in Lodi, Lombardy. According to police, the image of the Infant Jesus was then removed, beheaded and thrown away in a nearby field.
On the evening of Dec. 29, the boys entered the abbey of Polirone and threw the figure of the Infant Jesus against the roof of the church. Later, they returned and ripped it to pieces and hung the heads and torsos of the Holy Family on an iron pole in the town square.
"It is not difficult to imagine from which worldview such hostility towards a Christian symbol can come," De Corato commented.
A Church Militant investigation has uncovered dozens of other incidents in Italian towns over the Christmas period.
On Christmas night, cribs were totally destroyed in Martinengo, Bergamo and Palau, Gallura. In Mondovì, Cuneo, the image of the Baby Jesus and other crib figures were stolen.
In Ovada, Alessandria, on Christmas Eve a polystyrene crib made by children was torn to shreds and thrown into a pond. In Lizzanello, Lecce, the statues of the artistic nativity scene in Piazza della Libertà were defaced.
At Villa Musone, a hamlet of Loreto, the statuettes of the Holy Family were stolen from a crib made by businesses and residents and placed in front of a nursery school. Also in Fabriano, in the province of Ancona, the statue of the Child Jesus never made it to the manger; it was stolen from a confessional where it had been in storage. In Senigallia, a newly made sand crib was damaged and the "achievement" posted on Instagram.
In the village of Corciano, Perugia, vandals removed life-sized terracotta statues of the Holy Family, shepherds and animals from the crib and placed them at the entrance of a local bar.
Catholics are shocked by the fact that a number of the incidents occurred in small towns. The news quickly spread and created hurt feelings and outrage in local communities — even among those who do not practice the Christian faith.
While a number of acts were simply wanton and committed by local youth, sources said that other incidents could be traced to "people deeply different in feeling, values, faith and roots," and "foreigners" who, although born in Italy, were from Islamic countries and "insensitive" or even hostile "to the sense of Christmas."
There is also a sense of the loss of the sacred with the rapid rise of secularization; the Church is greatly responsible for this desacralization, a source observed.
Meanwhile, two boys who stole and damaged figurines from the crib in the square in Orbassano, in Piazza Umberto in front of the parish church, apologized and returned the stolen objects following an appeal from the mayor of the city, Eugenio Gambetta.
The parish priest and parents reprimanded the boys, and the parents have agreed to pay for the damage.
"In some ways, this is a repeat of what has been happening in France for some time now with the constant vandalization of churches by Muslim immigrants," author and publisher Leo Zagami told Church Militant, "but the predominantly leftwing Italian media downplays the attacks as stupid pranks by teenagers."
"Of course, in Italy, the Muslim community is much smaller, so the problem is more modest, but the large number of attacks during the recent Christmas festivities in Italy is indeed disturbing," he explained, "and inspired by the lack of integration suffered by most members of the Islamic community, just like in France."
Zagami went on to note that such incidents were less frequent in Southern Italy as the mafia, obsessed with the respect for religious symbols, would have the perpetrators punished, "but in Northern Italy we are basically witnessing an explosion of the same problem that has been infesting France and is now crossing the border into Italy."
In France, more than 3,000 churches, schools, cemeteries and monuments were vandalized, looted or defaced during 2019 — which is on track to becoming a record year for anti-Christian sacrilege on the continent.
Christian buildings are being vandalized, desecrated and burned at an average rate of three per day, according to government statistics.
In Germany, attacks against Christian churches are occurring at an average rate of two per day, according to police records.
The attacks overwhelmingly involve Roman Catholic sites and symbols, although in Germany, Protestant churches are also being targeted, a report from the Gatestone Institute said.