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East El Paso Catholic church vandalism included bible burning and satanic symbols; pastor says FBI probing it as hate crime

St. Thomas Aquinas
A large framed image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that was badly burned in an east El Paso church fire.
St. Thomas Aquinas
Fire damage inside an east El Paso Catholic church targeted by vandals.

EL PASO, Texas -- The pastor of an east El Paso Catholic church vandalized last week said late Sunday that the FBI now tells him the incident is being investigated as a hate crime due to attacks on other churches earlier this year.

Father Ed Roden-Lucero also offered new details about the extent of the damage at St. Thomas Aquinas, which an insurance company has estimated at $75,000, including a bible being set on fire and satanic symbols left on portions of the church.

The vandals broke into the church around 2 a.m. on Dec. 6 after using what Fr. Roden-Lucero described as large, heavy stones from the church landscaping to smash windows at the entrance to the gathering area, the parish main office and the bookkeeping office - which he said was ransacked before a pair of small fires were set.

"A bible was set on fire on a chair but was not completely consumed," the pastor said. "A second fire was started on a table that apparently was set to intentionally burn a large framed image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The fire badly damaged the picture and did considerable damage to the wall."

In addition to the fires, Fr. Roden-Lucero said two crosses were turned upside down on walls and satanic symbols were left in multiple locations.

He expressed thanks for the outpouring of support his parish has received from the community in the wake of the attack which came just a few weeks before Christmas.

"Parishioners have mostly expressed sadness that someone would do such a thing to a parish that is known for its hospitality and service to the poor," he said. "Every Sunday we pray for personal conversion as well as for the conversion of those, like the perpetrators of the crimes committed here, who are filled with anger, hate or prejudice."

Three other Catholic churches on El Paso's west side were the victims of attacks by vandals in May and June. The FBI has previously said St. Matthew Catholic Church, St. Patrick Cathedral, and St. Jude Catholic Church were all targeted with “incendiary devices."

No one has been injured in any of the four church incidents to date.

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