Cardinal Dolan, speaking last week about a rash of recent incidents of violence and vandalism against religious faithful and institutions in New York, said Catholics can learn a lesson from the Jewish community’s response to the senseless, irrational acts.
The cardinal spoke with Catholic New York in his office at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan a few days after seven windows, including five stained glass panels, were broken in an act of vandalism at the old Stone Church at St. Patrick’s in Yorktown Heights Jan. 4.
While the natural inclination might be to avoid calling attention to acts of vandalism against churches and other religious targets, such as broken windows, the beheading of statues or cemetery graffiti, Cardinal Dolan said the approach is not the most prudent one.
“Our Jewish neighbors will tell us that doesn’t work,” the cardinal said. “It will not go away. One of the few effective ways to call it out is to publicize it and shed a light on it.
“People don’t like to be caught in the light.”
On Jan. 12, Cardinal Dolan visited the old Stone Church for a close-up inspection of the damage and celebrated Mass at St. Patrick’s Church (Story on Page 3).
Because of the “irrational nature” of anti-religious incidents, it’s hard to predict why they are on the rise at this point in time, Cardinal Dolan said.
Although the cardinal said it is difficult to understand what goes through the mind of a person who attacks a church or a synagogue, he noted that “they seem to have a preference for some type of nihilism and anarchy, which means that anything that gives focus, direction and guidance to a civilized society, they attack.”
“Religion is on the side of life and light, and goodness and decency,” Cardinal Dolan explained. “If you’ve got irrational, hateful people that want to destroy that, then they are going to go after religion.”
The CNY interview took place two days after thousands marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in the No Hate, No Fear protest against anti-Semitism. It served as a sign of solidarity to all New Yorkers in the face of recent attacks against the Jewish community, most notably the one in Monsey where five members of a synagogue were attacked at a Hanukkah celebration Dec. 28 at a rabbi’s home.
Anti-Semitic incidents, especially in New York, are troubling on their own, and also because they point to a larger problem faced by all religions, Cardinal Dolan said.
“We’re all very concerned about the rise in anti-Semitism,” he added. “That’s the oldest and most insidious form of religious persecution, the persecution of the other.
“My contention is that while it’s good to concentrate on that now, because it seems to be on the rise and seems particularly incendiary, we can’t forget that it is part of a bigger story.
“What I fear is anti-religious, anti-faith bias going on throughout society.”
Calling it “good and necessary” that the Church decries vandalism, such as the damage perpetrated at St. Patrick’s old Stone Church, Cardinal Dolan also said it is important to remember that in some parts of the world today, Christians are paying for their faith with their lives.
“We cannot forget the far greater horrors our co-religionists are facing throughout the world,” the cardinal said.
As for Catholics who may feel fear or hesitancy about practicing their faith in public, the cardinal reiterated the mandate of God the Father and His Son: Be Not Afraid.
“They continually repeat that. A certain amount of trust and confidence of going to Mass and freely exercising our religion, trust in Divine Providence...has been part of the Church from the beginning,” the cardinal said.
“Our Church history shows us the more reasons there are for fear, the more people come out for church. It’s not only that they want to make a statement that they will not be deterred.
“They know they need God’s grace for the added protection.”