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Father Tom Steinmetz holds the banner that vandals destroyed along with the wooden structure, including the shearing off of a fence post at Our Lady of the Cedars Melkite Greek Catholic Church on Calef Road in Manchester. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

Vandals hit city church — again

MANCHESTER — For the second time in recent years, a Catholic parish in the city has seen a sign drawing attention to the church&#';s Middle Eastern roots vandalized.

The sign advertising a Mahrajan at Our Lady of the Cedars Melkite Greek Catholic Church was trashed, apparently by vandals. The sign says that Mahrajan is &#';Arabic for wicked good time.&#'; It was damaged between 10 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. Saturday.

The church pastor, the Rev. Thomas Steinmetz, said he does not want to think that ethnic prejudice or hate was responsible for the crime. Manchester police, who are investigating, say it seemed to be an act of vandalism for the sake of vandalism.

&#';I prefer to think that it was simply a crime of opportunity, the sign was out and close to the sidewalk.&#'; Steinmetz said. &#';I think it is more disturbing that it happens to be a church.&#';

The Melkite Greek Church is recognized as a Catholic church. With origins in Arabic nations, its rites and rituals differ from those of the Roman Catholic Church familiar to Catholics of European ancestry. The Melkite church is considered to be &#';in communion&#'; with Rome.

Most of the damage was to the support structure for the free-standing sign. Vandals smashed a support structure that held the sign on a set of fence posts. The sign was scratched, but Steinmetz said there was evidence considerable force was expended to damage the posts. One post was snapped off near ground level.

The church has seen other acts of vandalism in the past. While its pastor said he prefers to think the damage done to church property were not rooted in ethnic hatred, the fact that a church was targeted is upsetting.

&#';Its happened before and we have had other incidents here. It&#';s disturbing when these things happen to a church,&#'; Steinmetz said. &#';Handicapped access signs have been broken, there have been windows broken, beer bottles in the parking lot.&#';

Church members will repair the damage to the support structure and re-hang the sign advertising the festival, a social event and fundraiser for the church.

The Mahrajan festival, featuring Lebanese and other Middle Eastern foods, music and dance, begins Friday, Aug. 17, at 5 p.m. and runs through Sunday, Aug. 19.

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Bill Smith may be reached at wsmith@unionleader.com.


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