STAMFORD, Connecticut (WABC) -- Police in Connecticut are searching for a vandal or vandals who damaged a statue of Mary and baby Jesus outside a church just weeks before Easter.
Priests at the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in downtown Stamford are vowing to rebuild better than before.
The statue was literally defaced, the act of vandalism so extreme that Mary's mouth, chin and cheek are gone, along with Jesus' entire face.
"That's a religious symbol, and it should be really respected," parishioner Ann Marie Brown said. "It's awful and terrible that someone really tries to destroy it, especially when it's something that doesn't move and will never harm you in this world."
The vandalism was discovered Sunday morning before Masses, and it is believed a rock was used to batter the statue.
One of the parish's resident priests says he thinks the vandalism is the work of a teenager or young person.
"And they react to things that might make them look a little bit more popular in front of their friends," Fr. Al Audette said. "Or do something in a way that's more mischievous than anything else."
Some parishioners were devastated.
"My heart is broken because this has happened once before, and now it's happened again," Mike Piacenza said. " And I can't understand why whoever did something like this, in this day and age, just unbelievable."
The church dates back to the 1850s, and the statue has stood in front of the rectory next door for 40 years.
Because the building is the initial stages of a renovation, surveillance cameras were turned off.
Fr. Audette says he doubts the incident is linked to anger over the ongoing child sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church, because he says that might have resulted in more serious damage beyond just the statue.
"We pray for people who do things like this, and being a Roman Catholic, we expect these kinds of actions to happen," he said. "But we know that it isn't because people hate the church."
The statue is damaged beyond repair and will have to be replaced.
Anyone with information is urged to contact police.
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Statue of Mary, baby Jesus vandalized outside Connecticut church
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