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Tohono O’odham Seek to Heal Following Vandalism

Weeks later, there are still no suspects regarding a crime that left the Tohono O’odham wondering who would want to vandalize their church, cemetery.

On the morning of April 7, members of the San Xavier District, one of the 11 districts of the Tohono O’odham Nation, found graffiti such as “666,” “Hail Satan,” and “BK” – an alleged gang sign – sprayed on the walls, pillars, and an archway of Mission San Xavier del Bac, a Catholic church located within the district. A nearby tribal cemetery was also hit.

In an interview with ICTMN, tribal member Troy Parra, who resides in the San Xavier District and lives across the street from the church, said he was shocked when he discovered what had happened.

“I’d woken up and I instantly checked my phone. I received some text messages asking if I saw or heard what happened here,” Parra said. “I said no. Then I received some pictures of some of the taggings, and living across the street my whole life, I was just kinda ... more like a what the hell, like really?”

According to its website, the church has been an integral part of O’odham heritage since it was built in the 1700s. The mission was founded by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692, and the O’odham people built the mission between 1783 and 1797.

A cemetery on the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation was also vandalized with allegedly Satanic graffiti on April 7, 2016. Courtesy Tucson News Now, KOLD News 13.

In 1963, the church was recognized as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, and in 1978 Patronato San Xavier was established to oversee preservation and fundraising of the mission. The church holds a special place not only in the O’odham community, but in the Tucson community as a whole. Tourists from all over the world visit the church, known as the “White Dove of the Desert,” and it is an active Catholic church that regularly offers mass and operates a small school.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, President of the Patronato San Xavier board of directors Chuck Albanese said of the graffiti that “it’s a sacrilege against the mission that represents all the values of this community, well beyond the church.”

Patronato San Xavier sent a crew out to the mission to help clean, and they along with other community members were able to scrub most of the graffiti off by the end of the day. Parra stopped by throughout the day offering Gatorade and water to the crew.

The Satanic Temple of Arizona released a statement condemning the vandalism. “We are dismayed to see allegedly ‘Satanic’ graffiti marring this historical landmark and place of worship,” the statement read. “The Satanic Temple does not condone vandalism in any form.”

When asked how the community plans to move forward from this incident, Parra said many people in the community are Catholic, so they held a Rosary the evening of the incident.

“I’m pretty sure everyone’s ready to move on from that, forgive,” Parra said. “Try to take things if something like this happens, you know, remind them not to let the anger take over. Forgive them, pray for their families. Us Natives, a big thing in our lives is praying. That’s what we do here.”

So far there are no suspects.