The administrative director of the Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center in West Hartford discovered Wednesday morning that vandals had spray-painted images, some of which appear to be anti-Christian or ‘satanic’ images on several places of the campus.
By Ronni Newton
Neither police nor administrators know for sure if the graffiti spray-painted on various surfaces at the Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center were a deliberate targeting with anti-Christian images or the work of teens using the parking lot to access trails leading to state land, but the incident that desecrated areas of the property is nevertheless very disturbing and under active investigation.
“Obviously we were very upset about it,” said Luke Giroux, director of administrative operations at the retreat center at 303 Tunxis Road in West Hartford. “You see it all over the news, but when it actually happens to you it’s so disturbing.”
Giroux said when he arrived at work Tuesday morning he cruised around the property as he often does. That’s when he saw the graffiti, in three different places all located within 50 feet of the parking lot.
No more than 20 feet from the parking lot, vandals spray painted “666,” a known satanic symbol, on the pavers of a patio. The patio is part of a brand new installation that was completed just last fall, following a fundraiser, to honor Father John Baptist Pesce, a 60-year resident of the Center.
Surrounding the numbers were two circles with something painted in the center. It’s difficult to tell because the spray-painted lines are thick, but the image could be a star and an attempt to create a pentagram, another satanic image. Below each of the circles are upside-down crosses, which according to research are also anti-Christian images.
A ceramic relief sculpture that’s one of the stations of the cross was also marred with an upside down cross, and a pillar was painted with what looks like a peace sign missing one of its legs. The meaning of that symbol, which looks somewhat like a Mercedes-Benz logo, is unknown.
While the address of Holy Family is in West Hartford, much of the property is physically located in Farmington, and Giroux said he contacted Farmington Police as soon as he discovered the vandalism, and officers responded immediately.
Farmington Police Lt. Tim McKenzie said that the imagery could be interpreted as related to satanic beliefs.
He said police have narrowed down the timeframe when they believe the incident happened, and it is under active investigation.
“The police department investigators are reviewing the Holy Family surveillance to identify suspects,” McKenzie said.
He also said Farmington Police are stepping up their patrols of the area.
According to Giroux, it’s not unusual to have people not associated with activities at Holy Family enter the parking lot, which is accessible to state-owned land that includes the “abandoned highway” ramps.
Holy Family hosted a couples retreat over the weekend, attended by 70-80 people, and a Valentine’s dinner on Sunday night with about 100 guests, but Giroux said in addition to that, surveillance footage shows multiple different carloads of people in the parking lot at other times.
Holy Family opened in 1951 and Giroux said even those who lived nearby referred to it as the “monastery on the hill,” and didn’t think they were welcome on the property. “I’ve been here six years and tried to change that,” he said, to make the property accessible to the community for people to visit, to walk the grounds, engage in contemplative thought, walk the labyrinth.
There have been minor things that have happened since then – a broken light or damaged sign – but nothing like this week’s incident.
“Were we targeted, or was this someone with a can of spray paint going to the abandoned highway?” Giroux said.
The director of facilities and other staff has been working to remove the graffiti, and Giroux said they have been able to clean the “666” and other images off the pavers, and have mostly removed the upside down cross from the delicate ceramic relief sculpture 0n one of the stations of the cross.
The emblem on the pillar at the entrance to the cemetery is proving to be more difficult to remove and not coming off as cleanly because the surface is brick and the paint really sunk in, Giroux said.
“It is so sad that someone would be in that much pain that they needed to do this to sacred ground,” Father David Cinquegrani, director of retreats at Holy Family, posted on Facebook on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Father David expressed his thanks in another Facebook post for the support and sympathy received from the public, adding that the incident had been reported to the FBI for investigation as a hate crime. He also called for the state to erect a fence to make the abandoned highway area inaccessible.
Giroux said Holy Family will be upgrading its security systems, particularly the video surveillance cameras.
Giroux also expressed his sincere thanks to the community for the assistance that has been offered. “There has been a phenomenal outpouring of kindness and support.”
Anyone with information about this incident is asked to contact Farmington Police at 860-675-2400.
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