HANFORD, Calif. (KFSN) --Leaders and parishioners of a catholic church in Hanford are devastated after learning their place of worship was set on fire and vandalized Sunday night.
Wine was spilled, windows and pictures were smashed, holy robes and other items burnt and broken. And an entire congregation is shocked and saddened by what took place after the last service on Sunday night.
"I have seen many people sitting and weeping in the pews throughout the course of the morning," said Teresa Dominguez, Diocese of Fresno Chancellor.
Police are calling the arson, burglary, and vandalism at Hanford's Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church a hate crime and have identified the suspect as 33-year-old Oscar Ruiz. They said Ruiz admitted to the damage and told them he was upset with the Vatican.
"And you're asking the question, what have we done to upset you so much that you would come into this place of worship, God's house, and create such violent acts," said Dominguez.
Violent acts, but sometimes also strange. Statues were turned to face walls, candles flipped upside down and filled with wine. Church officials said the suspect somehow lifted the extremely heavy tabernacle and carried it across the street. But they're grateful that what is most sacred wasn't desecrated.
"It's Christ among us, and so the Eucharist for us as Catholics is the source and summit of all that we are," said Dominguez.
Diocese of Fresno Bishop Armando Ochoa surveyed the damage while parishioners gathered and prayed.
One woman, who didn't want to be identified, told us that this is a year of mercy in the Catholic Church, where all are welcomed to walk through these doors, as a symbol of God's love and mercy.
"And this, this is definitely an opportunity for us to show mercy to whoever did this. And why they did it, we don't know, but it's a matter of reaching out to and praying for that person."
For something like this to happen at a place so holy, it will take time for the church to recover. They feel violated, but also feel for the man who committed this violence.
The church will keep their same schedule but mass may be held in an outdoor pavilion. Other events like weddings and baptisms will be moved to other area parishes.