Cardinal Dolan Laments Attacks on Houses of Worship in Religious Freedom Day Message

Religious Freedom Day commemorates the 1786 passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, “to protect the right of individual conscience and religious exercise and to prohibit the compulsory support of any church.”

Remains of statues vandalized at Our Lady of Mercy parish in New York City, July 17, 2021.
Remains of statues vandalized at Our Lady of Mercy parish in New York City, July 17, 2021. (photo: Credit: / Diocese of Brooklyn.)

NEW YORK, N.Y. — Attacking houses of worship and religious art is akin to attacking the community who prays there, said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York ahead of Religious Freedom Day, observed Jan. 16. 

“For nearly two years, the U.S. bishops have noticed a disturbing trend of Catholic churches being vandalized and statues being smashed,” said Cardinal Dolan in a statement released Jan. 14 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Cardinal Dolan is the chairman of the USCCB’s religious liberty committee. 

“We are not alone. Our friends from other faith groups experience these outbursts too, and for some communities, they occur far more frequently,” he said. 

“An attack on a house of worship is certainly an assault on the particular community that gathers there. It is also an attack on the founding principle of America as a place where all people can practice their faith freely,” said Cardinal Dolan. “And it is an attack on the human spirit, which yearns to know the truth about God and how to act in light of the truth.”

Cardinal Dolan praised the “great tradition of religious freedom” in the United States, which has “allowed beauty to flourish,” for the benefit of all.  

Religious Freedom Day commemorates the 1786 passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, “to protect the right of individual conscience and religious exercise and to prohibit the compulsory support of any church.”

Cardinal Dolan said in his statement that “Diverse religious communities have built beautiful houses of worship, adorned with stained glass, statues, and symbols of faith, in earthly reflection of the glory and majesty of God.” 

“In the midst of a popular culture that too often caters to our basest appetites, sacred art and architecture calls all of us to think about ultimate things. All Americans benefit from these religious displays.” 

Religious art, said Cardinal Dolan, “reminds us that we live most fully when we direct our lives toward our Creator and our neighbors.” The destruction of this art and other sacred things, he explained, “degrades our life together and harms the common good.”

Recently, a statue of Our Lady of Fatima at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, was defaced by a vandal. In response to the vandalism, and in honor of National Religious Freedom Day, the shrine will be hosting a rosary on Jan. 16. In the statement, Cardinal Dolan encouraged all Catholics to join in and pray the rosary on Sunday, “as we pray that all religious communities would be free to worship without fear and to continue to bless this great country.” 

“On this National Religious Freedom Day, let us resolve to promote religious freedom for all people, and to honor the place of the sacred both in our lives and our landscapes,” he said.

As part of Jewish-Christian dialogue, a joint concert was given on Sept. 4, 2021, in the Dohány Street Synagogue by the Solti Chamber Orchestra in Budapest. Hungary.

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