QUEENS, N.Y. (OSV News) — A 21-year-old man who appeared to be emotionally disturbed entered St. Joseph Church in the Astoria section of Queens June 5, broke open the tabernacle, removed the holy Eucharist stored inside it and carelessly tossed it around, church officials said.
According to the New York Police Department, police responded to a 911 call at 10:06 a.m. (EST) about a man who was breaking things inside the church and trying to hurt himself. The individual also was muttering incoherently, police said.
EMS was called to the scene and the man was taken to Elmhurst General Hospital for evaluation. No arrests were made. Police did not release the man’s name.
But the incident shocked and disturbed people associated with the church. “A profanation of the Blessed Sacrament happened here at St. Joseph,” Father Jean Tanisma, the parochial vicar, told The Tablet, newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Marlene Kaselis, who has been a parishioner for 50 years, said she was shocked and saddened.
“It’s a horrible feeling, very sad. It is sad, first of all, that someone feels that they find it necessary to come into the church like they did and do what they did,” she told “Currents News,” a Brooklyn diocesan broadcast news program.
“But also we know and understand that the person who did it just has mental issues,” she added.
Father Vincent Chirichella, the pastor, told “Currents News” the incident was particularly painful because It took place less than a week before Corpus Christi Sunday, which is June 11.
“It does feel like we’ve been violated. And it does feel as if something egregious was done, because in this week, were we entering into Corpus Christi Sunday, that which we hold most sacred, the body and the blood and the soul and divinity of the Lord,” he said.
“The Blessed Sacrament was desecrated in our home in this home of St. Joseph. And so for us, it was very, very upsetting,” he added. In a posting on the parish’s Facebook page, he said the Eucharist “was eaten, spit out and thrown (onto) the sanctuary floor.”
It could have been much worse, according to Father Chirichella, who told “Currents News” the intruder also went down into the basement, where he tried to spread paint thinner on the floor. “Thank God he didn’t have any matches,” he said.
But Father Chirichella also said he would urge his parishioners to pray for the troubled young man.
In the aftermath of the incident, the pastor said, the next step is for the church to be reconsecrated and prayers of reparation to be said.
The posting on the parish’s Facebook page said that a noon Mass June 7 would be followed the next morning by an 8 a.m. Mass in the the church’s Adoration Chapel. On June 9, Brooklyn Bishop Robert J. Brennan was scheduled to celebrate a Mass of reparation for the desecration of the Eucharist, and the sanctuary will be blessed. Beginning June 9, the church will operate as normal and all Masses will resume as normal.
The church has asked police from the local precinct, which responded to the 911 call, to conduct a security survey of the building to see what additional security measures could be adopted.
It was the second time in recent weeks that a Catholic church in Queens has been a target. On May 18, a suspect broke into Our Lady of Fatima Church in East Elmhurst, stealing statues, religious items and cash.
The intruder entered the church through an unlocked door and forced open an inner perimeter door, police said. The individual took assorted statues and other religious articles worth $890 and grabbed approximately $60 in cash. There was no one else in Our Lady of Fatima Church at the time of the break-in, police said.