June 7, 2023 By Michael Dorgan – Updated on June 12, 2023
An unstable man broke into a Catholic church in Astoria on June 5 and allegedly smashed a picture of the pope, spread paint thinner on the floor and then violently hit himself over the head with a religious object.
The man, 21, broke into St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, located at 4319-30th Ave., through an open door at around 8 p.m., according to The Diocese of Brooklyn — which also covers Queens.
The man gained entry through the church rectory, a housing area where a priest lives, and proceeded to destroy framed photographs of Pope Francis and Bishop Robert Brennan, who serves as bishop of the Diocese, according to a spokesperson for the Diocese.
The alleged vandal then made his way to the basement, where he flung paint thinner on the floor. He then re-entered the chapel sacristy, also known as a vestry or preparation room, and dressed himself in a priest vestment, or garment, the spokesperson said.
A parish priest who arrived at the scene to lock up the chapel found the man inside, hitting himself in the head with a monstrance, a religious vessel used to host the consecrated eucharistic host, or sacramental bread. The man had cut himself with the object and had bled onto the monstrance as well as the vestment, according to the Diocese.
He then ran into the main sanctuary of the church and up onto the altar where he opened a tabernacle — a sacrament house or locked box — and threw consecrated hosts onto the floor. Consecrated hosts are small, unleavened wafers of bread that people receive during communion.
The priest called the other parish clergy and seminarian in residence for help before phoning the police, the Diocese said.
After police arrived on the scene, EMS transported the 21-year-old to Elmhurst Hospital where he underwent an evaluation, the NYPD said. He was not arrested, cops said.
Father Vincent Chirichella, a pastor at the church, called the incident an “egregious” act.
However, Chirichella said he forgives the man and is praying for him.
The church was reconsecrated by Bishop Robert Brennan at noon on Friday, and prayers of reparation were said. Mass was not permitted to be held at the church until the reconsecration was completed, the Diocese said.
Brennan said that attendees were filled with a sense of sorrow and pain over what had happened, but they also felt hope.
“We pray this man may be shown God’s mercy and find the help he needs,” Brennan said.
“When terrible things like this happen, God has a way of using them as an opportunity for renewal. This Mass of Reparation was a chance for St. Joseph’s parish community to be renewed in faith in the wake of the disrespect shown to Jesus Christ. God always brings good out of the evil things that occur.”