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St. Paulinus Catholic Church in Syracuse, NebraskaTwitter/Screenshot

SYRACUSE, Nebraska (LifeSiteNews) — The pastor of a Catholic Church in rural Nebraska is calling for forgiveness of the vandal who smashed an altar stone and statue at the church this past weekend.

The perpetrator, who remains unidentified, flipped the altar at St. Paulinus Catholic Church in Syracuse, Nebraska and “shattered” the altar stone containing a relic sometime Friday night or early Saturday morning.

The church’s pastor, Father Ryan Salisbury, remarked to LifeSiteNews that while the vandalism is “incredibly sad,” it is “almost fitting” that it occurred “at the start of Holy Week.”

In a homily Salisbury gave during a Saturday vigil Mass for Palm Sunday, he pointed out that the incident allows the congregation to experience “injustice” and “brokenness” as Jesus Christ Himself did during His Passion, soon to be commemorated during Holy Week.

“The very Passion that our Lord walks through this week, we get to walk through with Him,” Salisbury said. “There was an injustice that was done here. But our Lord experienced injustice already.”

He continued, “But the question is, how are we going to respond?” Salisbury pointed out that even as Christ was “unjustly beaten…unjustly bruised, [and] unjustly broken,” He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

The pastor added, “maybe if anger has been a struggle or if “unforgiveness has been a struggle in your own life… our Lord is allowing you to experience [the events of Holy Week] because He wants you to take that prayer He offered on His own cross and make it your own.”

He suggested that the vandalism itself was the fruit of “unforgiveness,” “brokenness,” and “hurt.”

“This place is supposed to be sacred. It’s supposed to be safe. This is supposed to be a place where we can go and only know the joy of our Lord, and then this happens,” Salisbury said.

While Salisbury made clear they must “let the justice system play out,” he emphasized that the “only way” to find freedom and healing is to forgive, reminding the congregation that “everything” Jesus Christ did “is to forgive us.”

He proceeded to lead the congregation in a prayer of forgiveness for the perpetrator and added to LifeSiteNews that they are praying for their conversion.

Because the freestanding altar cannot be used until the altar stone is replaced, Salisbury has been saying Mass at the church’s high altar, on which the tabernacle is located, since Saturday. He explained to his congregation during a vigil Mass for Palm Sunday that his new orientation is not about having his back to the people but rather is about facing God.

“I stand as your father not facing you, but facing [Christ],” Salisbury said.

Salisbury shared with LifeSiteNews that the police are conducting an ongoing investigation into the incident.

At least 301 Catholic churches have been attacked and vandalized since spring 2020, according to tracking of the incidents conducted by conservative nonprofit group CatholicVote.

CatholicVote said the hundreds of chronicled attacks don’t include “simple acts of burglary” but represent only those acts of violence in which “the motive appears to have been political or spiritual.”

“The [George Floyd] riots started a wave of violence and vandalism against Catholic churches that only accelerated after the unrest died down,” the nonprofit reported, noting that the targeting of Catholic churches for political vandalism ramped up after the leak of the U.S. Supreme Court’s draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson in May 2022.