Virgin Mary statue vandalized at national shrine in Washington

By OSV Staff
WASHINGTON (OSV News) – The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has once again been targeted by vandals. This time, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the north lawn of the basilica grounds, located in an area known as Mary’s Garden, suffered severe damage.

At approximately 2:30 p.m. Feb. 15, a visitor praying the rosary in the garden discovered the desecrated statue. The individual immediately alerted the basilica staff, prompting an inspection. It appeared that the Blessed Mother’s face had been deliberately struck with a hammer, and the surrounding light fixtures, meant to illuminate the path for visitors, were shattered.

A statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the north lawn of the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington was vandalized Feb. 15, 2024. According to the basilica’s rector, the damage appears to have been caused by a hammer and is being investigated. (OSV News photo/courtesy of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception)

According to Msgr. Walter Rossi, the basilica’s rector, this act of vandalism seems to have occurred shortly before its discovery, given the routine checks performed by the security staff.
This act of vandalism echoes a disturbing pattern of disrespect towards religious symbols at the national shrine. Msgr. Rossi recalled, in a statement, a similar incident on Dec. 5, 2021, when the statue of Our Lady of Fatima, an image of the Virgin Mary located in the Rosary Walk and Garden across Harewood Avenue from the basilica, was also vandalized.

The statue vandalized Feb. 15, “Mary, Protector of the Faith” by sculptor Jon-Joseph Russo, depicts the Virgin Mary cradling the child Jesus. According to the basilica’s website, it was erected in 2000 in honor of Bishop Thomas J. Grady, the fifth director of the national shrine, who oversaw the construction of the Great Upper Church.

Msgr. Rossi expressed concern and compassion not only for the sanctity of the shrine but also for the person or people responsible for the damage. “While this act of vandalism is very unfortunate, I am more concerned about the individuals who perpetrate such activity and pray for their healing,” he said.

The basilica is the largest Roman Catholic church in North America and one of the 10 largest churches in the world. The basilica welcomes nearly a million visitors annually.

The shrine’s security team is working closely with the Metropolitan Police Department to investigate the vandalism and bring those responsible to justice. Sources tell Our Sunday Visitor that the incident is being investigated as a hate crime. The Metropolitan Police Department has not yet returned Our Sunday Visitor’s request for comment.