Pastor of Catholic Church in Bethesda, Maryland, Describes Arson, Desecration of Tabernacle

By Shannon Mullen

The pastor of a Catholic parish in Bethesda, Maryland, gave a powerful testimony Sunday hours after his church was set on fire, telling the congregation, “We are the Church. We are the living stones.”

St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish was the most heavily damaged of three Bethesda churches hit by vandalism over the weekend. A video posted on the parish’s YouTube channel appears to show flames near the church’s tabernacle. Authorities believe the incidents are connected.

A fire at North Bethesda United Methodist Church early Saturday morning caused minor damage and headstones were damaged at nearby Wildwood Baptist Church, the Washington Post reported.

A fire was reported early Sunday morning inside St. Jane Frances de Chantal, located about a mile from the Methodist church, authorities said. Because of the heavy damage, Sunday Masses were moved to the parish school’s gymnasium.

Father Samuel Giese, the pastor, spoke about the attack at the start of the parish’s live-streamed 10 a.m. Sunday Mass.

“Last night our church was vandalized. People broke in. They overturned statues. They tore down the Stations of the Cross. They desecrated the tabernacle, and they tried to set the church on fire,” he said.

“I believe that this is because of the Church’s stand on the issue of life — when it begins and that it should be protected — and that this is one of the manifestations of the deep divisions right now within our country, that there are those who believe that we do not have even the right to practice our faith.”

Giese went on to say that the church is more than a building.

“I’m sorry to share this news with you. However, this is the important thing to remember,” he said. “We are the Church. We are the living stones. We are the Body of Christ. We are the ones who have been nourished by God, consecrated by God.

“We are ones called by God to be the light … to the world, and the salt of the earth.” You can watch the pastor’s full statement in the video below. There is footage of the fire in the sanctuary at the beginning of the video.

Giese went on to tell a story about a Bolshevik revolutionary who said to an old Christian woman that her church would be pulled down so there would be nothing left to remind her of her God.

“She said, ‘Really? Can you pull down the stars from the sky, too?’” Giese said.

Giese concluded by reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:

“What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?

“As it is written: ‘For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Father Samuel Giese, pastor of St. Jane Frances de Chantal Catholic Parish in Bethesda, Maryland, speaks during a live-streamed Sunday Mass in the parish school’s gymnasium on July 10, 2022, hours after his church was vandalized and set on fire. Screenshot from YouTube video

The Bethesda incidents are the latest in a wave of vandalism and arson attacks against churches and pro-life pregnancy centers and pro-life groups across the U.S. in the aftermath of the Supreme Court abortion decision on June 24 overturning Roe v. Wade.