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PARIS (ChurchMilitant.com) - As practicing Catholics become a tiny minority in historically Catholic countries, the houses of worship built by their forefathers face neglect, vandalism and sacrilege.
In 2019, roughly 3,000 of Europe's churches and other Christian edifices were the target of crimes.
The statistics come from international think-tank The Gatestone Institute, which issued a sweeping analysis on Tuesday of vandalism and other crimes against churches and Christian monuments in Europe.
"Violence against Christian sites is most widespread in France," the report says, "where churches, schools, cemeteries and monuments are being vandalized, desecrated and burned at an average rate of three per day, according to government statistics."
It also notes the attacks "overwhelmingly involve Roman Catholic sites and symbols, although in Germany, Protestant churches are also being targeted."
One of the biggest Catholic news stories in 2019 was the fire that severely damaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
The conflagration broke out the afternoon of April 15, the Monday of Holy Week, in the roof's wooden support structures. Large crowds stood in the streets and watched in dismay as the iconic 800-year-old church went up in flames.
Father Jean-Marc Fournier, chaplain for Paris' fire service, ran into the cathedral with firefighters, rescuing the Blessed Sacrament and a slew of relics — including a relic of Jesus' crown of thorns.
In June, investigators said the fire was likely caused by either a smoldering cigarette or an electrical malfunction, as workers were making repairs on the roof and supports. But some speculate the fire was an act of arson.
France has been called "the eldest daughter of the Church" due to its Catholic heritage stretching back 15 centuries. It began with King Clovis I of the Franks, who converted from paganism and was baptized Christian, likely on Christmas Day in the year 508.
But few Frenchmen today practice the Catholic faith. Gatestone notes in the report that "less than 5% of French people regularly attend Mass on Sundays."
Below is a small sample of the instances of vandalism, arson and robbery perpetrated against Catholic churches in Europe:
Gatestone also drew attention to comments from public figures on the attacks against Europe's churches.
On Aug. 14, vandals desecrated the Church of Saint-Samson in Clermont, France. They scattered the Blessed Sacrament and stole the ciborium that held them. Bishop Jacques Benoit-Gonnin of the diocese of Beauvais commented, "As Catholic Christians, this new event saddens us more, insofar as it suggests that people make churches a target to satisfy their addiction or to appease their greed."
The vandalism stretches beyond churches, affecting cemeteries, nativity scenes and public monuments. Among those responsible for the crimes are radical political activists and Islamic extremists.
To gather the data for its report, Gatestone reviewed "thousands of newspaper reports, police blotters, parliamentary inquiries, social media posts and specialized blogs from Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy and Spain."