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'God can take the bad and make it good': Fargo church parishioners come together in prayer after vandalism

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Father Scott Karnik leads the congregation in praying the rosary in front of the damaged Virgin Mary statue Wednesday, Aug. 8, at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Fargo. Erin Bormett / The Forum2 / 5
A statue depicting the Virgin Mary is missing its head after an act of vandalism. St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church is accepting donations to assist in the repair or replacement of the statue. Erin Bormett / The Forum3 / 5
A member of the Knights of Columbus clutches a rosary during a prayer service for the damaged Virgin Mary statue Wednesday, Aug. 8, at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Fargo. Erin Bormett / The Forum4 / 5
Ellie Noah, center, prays the rosary with other members of the congregation in front of the damaged Virgin Mary statue Wednesday, August 8, 2018, at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Fargo. Erin Bormett / The Forum5 / 5

FARGO - Parishioners of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Fargo gathered on their church lawn Wednesday night to pray for healing and hope after what some have called a "devastating" attack one week ago - the intentional decapitation of a beloved outdoor statue of the Virgin Mary.

About 100 members of the south Fargo church held a worship service near the grotto where the headless statue still stands. In addition to praying the Rosary, they stood together in hopes of sending a message.

"The service is an opportunity for the parish and the surrounding community to pray together relative to the act of vandalism," Father Scott Karnik said, Wednesday, Aug. 8. "We want to make a public stance to oppose vandalism but also to show our public respect for the Blessed Mother."

Karnik said he has prayed in the grotto frequently since coming to work at St. Anthony one year ago. The grotto and statue were dedicated as a memorial by the family of parishioner Morris Doyle in 2016. However, on the morning of Aug. 1, staff at the church found someone had vandalized the statue overnight - the head of the concrete statue broken off.

"For most of the people I spoke to the initial feeling was one of shock and dismay," said Karnik. "I don't think people were really angry, just a feeling of shock and sadness and just wondering who would do this and why?"

That is what Vince Kalk thought. The longtime St. Anthony member was the first one to sit down in the folding chairs that became makeshift outdoor pews at Wednesday night's service.

"We were in disbelief to see that someone would do this," he said. "But I believe good can be brought out of it. God can take the bad and make it good. That's what tonight is about."

For others, it was the place to feel comfort and hope.

"I wanted to support my parish. I grew up in this parish," said recent Shanley High School graduate Ellie Noah. "I'm really sad this happened. But it's nice to gather with the community and pray about it."

And the prayer wasn't reserved for St. Anthony members alone. Father Karnik said they forgive whoever vandalized their Blessed Mother statue and hope the best for him or her.

"My personal prayer is that they would be flooded with graces and the good that will come is their conversion," said Karnik.

No one has been arrested for vandalizing the statue. Father Karnik says as of now, they're not sure if it can be repaired or will have to be replaced all together. They have also discussed burying the statue along with the head as a sign of respect. He said they've had more than 9,000 hits on their Facebook page and people are voluntarily donating money to either restore the statue or make other improvements.

"Whatever ill will was intended - that has not happened," said Karnik. "Just the opposite has happened. It has strengthened our devotion to the Blessed Mother. You could say it's defeating evil by reversing it."

Tracy Briggs

Tracy Briggs is a former TV anchor/radio host currently working as a features writer and video host for Forum Communications.

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