Locals ‘dumbfounded’ vandals would deface historic mission, says priest

PHOENIX — Workers spent a day cleaning graffiti from the historic Mission San Xavier del Bac in the Tohono O’odham Nation of southern Arizona after vandals defaced the premises and a nearby village cemetery.

Mission San Xavier del Bac, located south of Tucson, Ariz., in the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation, is seen in a photo taken Jan. 10. The historic church and a nearby cemetery was defaced by vandals April 7. Some of the graffiti showed satanic symbols and statements. (CNS photo | Nancy Wiechec)

Mission San Xavier del Bac, located south of Tucson, Ariz., in the San Xavier District of the Tohono O’odham Nation, is seen in a photo taken Jan. 10. The historic church and a nearby cemetery was defaced by vandals April 7. Some of the graffiti showed satanic symbols and statements. (CNS photo | Nancy Wiechec)

The graffiti was discovered early April 7 and by late afternoon it had been cleaned up. Tribal police in the San Xavier District were investigating the incident.

“We’re just dumbfounded as to how someone could deface such a historic landmark, an iconic landmark and a place of worship,” said Franciscan Father Edward Sarrazin, parochial vicar. “The local people here are scandalized by this.”

The priest said the mission’s entrance way, front and side walls, an archway and walkways had been defaced but there was no damage to the interior of church, which is locked at night.

Photos by the Arizona Daily Star newspaper showed satanic symbols, “hail satan” and “rape” spray-painted on the building. Father Sarrazin said there also was a drawing of a character from the cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants.

San Xavier was founded in 1692 by Jesuit Father Eusebio Kino. The Spanish Colonial church structure was completed in 1797 and is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona. It is the parish church of the Tohono O’odham village of Wa:k and draws about 200,000 visitors each year.

The mission, which has undergone extensive restoration and conservation efforts over the last 25 years, is on the National Register of Historic Places.