DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholics in two U.S. cities are using their Rosaries to protect works of art depicting saints.
In Ventura, California and St. Louis, Missouri, groups have formed to protect the statues of St. Junipero Serra and St. Louis IX, respectively, using their presence and their Rosaries to create a barrier and ensure the sculptures are safe from rioters and vandals.
Catholics in St. Louis began to get nervous when they learned officials removed a statue of Christopher Columbus. Fearing that the statue of St. Louis was next, five men from a local parish got together on the night of June 20 and decided, beginning the next day, they would meet at the statue in Forest Park every evening at 6:30 to pray the Rosary.
Late the next afternoon, they began getting out the word about the daily prayer gathering. When they arrived at the park, there were (with very little notice) approximately 30 other people there to join them.
Credo of the Catholic Laity — an organization of active, orthodox Catholics based in St. Louis — hopped on the bandwagon, distributing their own electronic flier announcing the daily Rosary.
Jane Petry, a local Catholic activist, attended a recent Rosary gathering. She said two police cars were parked nearby but she didn't get the feeling they were there to protect the participants. One agitator tried to get things going by asking rhetorically, "Why is the Catholic Church supporting a man who committed murder?" She told Church Militant his attempts to rile the crowd weren't very effective.
Ineffective or not, the agitators "were waiting to light a match." Petry added that a Benedictine monk in attendance responded to questions and taunts "in a very measured way."
She believes the St. Louis Rosary crowd will grow. After several days of sunset Rosaries, "People see that it's safe."
In a rare display of unity, Muslims and Jews are leading the charge to have the St. Louis statue removed and the city's name changed. The Jerusalem Post reports that Umar Lee, a member of Muslims for a Greater St. Louis, is spearheading the initiative, along with Israeli-American boutique restaurateur Ben Poremba and the rabbi for Washington University Chabad on Campus, Hershey Novack.
Michael Allen, a senior lecturer in architecture, landscape architecture and urban design at Washington University's Sam Fox School of Design, told Church Militant he thought the citizens of St. Louis should have to reckon with the "racism and bigotry embodied in the statue of the Apotheosis of St. Louis."
If the statue is relocated, he says it would send a "strong statement of rebuke ... but without public engagement, would change few minds."
If the statue were to be moved, Allen — who is a heritage conservationist — assessed that "the entire statue assembly would need to be retained intact, to preserve the entire composition and original artistic intent."
Before the Gateway Arch was built, the statue of St. Louis was the city's symbol.
Another Rosary gathering — not associated with the daily rosary gatherings in the evening — is being held Saturday, but protestors are mischaracterizing it as a "White Nationalist" rally in support of President Trump, and encouraging other likeminded rioters to attend and disrupt the event.
"We are calling on all who oppose racism, the White Nationalism of the Trump Administration, anti-semitism and Islamophobia to attend," reads a flier about the event.
In Ventura, a very different story played out. A small group of young people gathered around a statue of St. Junipero Serra on Saturday, praying the Rosary and repeating the "Our Father." Surrounding them was a crowd of about 200 protesters eager to tear down the statue of the city's founder.
Outnumbered three to one, the St. Serra defenders kept their composure despite taunts and threats from protesters and a steady stream of vitriol from one of the leaders armed with a bullhorn.
According to California Catholic Daily:
Event participants harassed and taunted those in support of the statue, disparaging the opinions, religion, race and personal appearance of those they disagreed with. A man singled out a young supporter holding an American flag and shouted that the supporter had yelled, "White power!" Immediately a swirling mass of people screamed at him to say it again, on video, and accused him of cowardice for refusing to do so and for saying he had said nothing of the kind. Others accused a supporter of spitting on them and she was immediately encircled, verbally abused and scratched.
The city of Ventura has not given a timeline for when the statue will be removed and where it will be relocated. Officials say they are committed to hearing from all interested parties before a final decision is made.