Forgiveness was the theme of a special prayer service at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church on Monday evening after vandals desecrated the sanctuary over the weekend.
"We are here especially to heal the pain, the sorrow," said the Rev. Ramon Bejarano. "We ask God to continue to bless this place."
Several hundred people gathered at the church, where one or more people broke a large window early Saturday and toppled the new organ and four statues of Mary, one of which was from Belgium, 200 years old and irreplaceable.
During the service, incense surrounded the altar where drops of blood from the intruder had been splattered. Holy water sprinkled on the people and the aisles at the beginning of the serv- ice were used as a blessing after the violence.
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In his welcome and homily, the pastor urged forgiveness from the parishioners and God for those responsible.
"The events that happened this weekend have shaken our spirits, but have not shaken our faith," Bejarano said. "We want to ask the Lord for forgiveness for the malicious act. We know that God wants everyone to be saved. He waits even until the last minute for the sinner to repent."
Bejarano included the need for everyone to seek forgiveness "for all the times we have sinned against our Lord."
Gene Gobel, a former St. Stanislaus parishioner who attends Holy Family in north Modesto, where Bejarano was the first pastor, said he and his wife attended the service "to support Father Ramon and everyone here." He said the serv-ice "was very positive, very uplifting. It gave the right message."
Jorge Serrano, a St. Stanislaus parishioner, said: "I came because my faith meant we had to be together and show the world that Catholic people are together. We need to pray so what has happened to us does not happen again."
Beverly Garcia, a longtime church member, said she thought the service "was beautiful. I came to join my parish in prayer."
Earlier in the day, Bejarano said he shed some tears when he learned of the vandalism. "I was kind of in shock," he said. "There is that sensation when you feel powerless."
The prayer service helped.
"This has brought us closer together as a community," he said. "I saw many tears in the eyes of the people who came in. But they knew (the loss) was just material things. Our faith is much more than that."
Joe Ribeiro, the church's facility manager, pointed out a few spots of dried blood remaining on the tile floor and a nearby wood cabinet.
"They came for our ladies," Ribeiro said, noting damage to two other statues, Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Guadalupe, which were pushed from tall pedestals at either end of the cross-shaped nave with the altar at the center. A fourth statue of Mary, in a back room and awaiting placement outdoors, also was pushed over.
"They didn't touch the men. They didn't touch St. Joseph or St. Anthony."
Modesto police Sgt. Rick Armendariz said Monday that the investigation is continuing. There haven't been any arrests, he said, and it is unclear if more than one person was involved.
Officers sent samples of blood found around the altar and outside the church to a crime lab. Police believe the blood is from at least one person who broke in and was injured during the incident, Armendariz said.
There is a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a suspect. Police said tipsters, who can remain anonymous, should call Crime Stoppers at 521-4636 or go to www.stancrimetips.org.
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at 578-2012 or email@example.com.