A statue of Pope John Paul II outside the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in north-central Edmonton was vandalized with red paint overnight.
Edmonton police could be seen investigating Sunday outside the Polish church at 11485 106 St., where the statue was covered in red handprints.
Teddy bears and other stuffed animals sat at the statue’s base, and red footprints were also seen leading to and from the front doors of the church.
Edmonton police said the act happened around 11:10 p.m. Saturday, when a woman was seen vandalizing the statue of the late pope.
The Edmonton Police Service Hate Crimes and Violent Extremism Unit has been notified of the incident, though a spokesperson said the file will remain with the northwest division investigators until the hate crimes unit has had an opportunity to properly assess the situation.
No further details were available from police.
Born Karol Wojtyła in Wadowice, Poland, John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope since the 1500s and was head of the Catholic church from 1978 until his death in 2005.
Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith issued a statement saying the church was saddened by the vandalism.
“At a time when our country is acutely aware of the need for reconciliation with the Indigenous Peoples of this land, it is helpful to recall the words with which Pope John Paul II, during his 1987 visit to Fort Simpson, strongly affirmed the inherent goodness of Indigenous culture and traditions, and expressed solidarity with the First Nations, Metis and Innu Peoples in defense of their rights: ‘My coming among you looks back to your past in order to proclaim your dignity and support your destiny.’”
Smith went on to say he echoed those words.
“The Church extols the equal human dignity of all peoples and defends their right to uphold their own cultural character with its distinct traditions and customs,” the statement on Sunday read.
“The parishioners of Holy Rosary parish, and the people of the Archdiocese of Edmonton, stand with the Indigenous Peoples in this moment of profound sorrow.
“With them, we lament the sad legacy of residential schools and look forward to the healing of our relationships. May the Creator help all of us to give expression to our grief in a way that builds up and heals, and place us all on the right path of truth and reconciliation.”
Sunday’s discovery is the latest in a spree of vandalism and acts of crime directed towards Catholic churches in Canada, as more details of the church-run, government-sponsored residential school program come to light.
At least five churches on First Nations land in British Columbia have been set on fire this past week — and four of them destroyed — while in Saskatchewan, the doors of a Saskatoon church were covered in red painted handprints.
The discovery of nearly 1,000 bodies in unmarked graves at two former residential schools in B.C. and Saskatchewan have many people questioning how many more are undiscovered.
Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced Thursday that ground-penetrating radar detected 751 unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School.
In May, the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said the same technology found what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at a former school site in Kamloops, B.C.
Last week in Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney announced an $8-million grant program to fund research into unmarked burial sites, lost cemeteries and undocumented deaths, as well as placement of memorials and commemoration events.
The Alberta Residential Schools Community Research Grant will allow communities and organizations to submit research proposals for a single residential school site, and receive up to $150,000.