by Moira Cullings
OVERLAND PARK — When Sharon Weems arrived at Church of the Ascension here on the morning of July 10, she was stunned.
“I was just sickened,” she said. “It’s dirty and ugly. It’s sad. It’s just really sad.”
Weems, pastoral associate for administration and outreach at Ascension, described with a heavy heart the vandalism the parish had experienced hours earlier.
Around 1 a.m., a person arrived outside the parish school and proceeded to spray-paint a vulgar message on its doors, along with the words “My body my choice” on the front of the building.
Elsewhere on the parish grounds, the person spray-painted a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in red.
“We’ve done so much with our wonderful Knights of Columbus to try and protect everything,” said Weems, but vandalism at the parish keeps on coming.
Over the past few months, Ascension has had several of its “Value Them Both” signs defaced and stolen. But according to parishioners, the July 10 incident took things to a different level.
Although they’re disgusted by what’s gone on, they remain unshaken in their support of the amendment, which will be voted on in Kansas on Aug. 2.
‘Everyone should know about it’
Since May 14, members of Ascension’s Knights of Columbus have taken shifts throughout the night to guard the church grounds.
Two men were on-site when the vandalism occurred, and one witnessed it from his parking spot.
“Out of the corner of my eye, I caught motion,” he said.
The person came into the Knight’s view under the streetlight before going back into shadow under the school awning.
“It took me 20 or 30 seconds to figure out what I was looking at,” said the Knight, whose name, like other Knights interviewed for this story, will be withheld since their nightly watch continues.
Through binoculars, the man watched as the person spray-painted the church building.
He asked his fellow Knight on duty to call 911, then approached the school on foot and shined his flashlight in the vandal’s direction, causing the person to flee.
The Overland Park Police filed a report after speaking with the Knights, and at the time of this publication, the person who committed the damage had not yet been found.
“Frankly, I don’t understand the motivation of the people that are doing this,” said the Knight who witnessed the crime. “We do the best we can to try to make it hard for them.
“Those of us who are working as guards are not lurking in the shadows. We’re trying to be extremely obvious we’re here and we’re watching.”
“This is happening in the dark,” he added, “but it’s very much in public. And everyone should know about it.”
‘A different kind of sorrow’
Dustin Fluderer and his family paused outside Ascension School in the early afternoon on July 10 before making their way to the vandalized statue of Mary to say a prayer.
“This is something that is completely unbelievable — that anybody would have the nerve or ability to desecrate a structure like this, especially one that’s sacred in the eyes of God,” said Fluderer.
“It’s a different kind of sorrow that I’m experiencing right now,” he said.
Despite his frustrations, Fluderer said he would pray for the person who committed the crime.
“I have to remember that they still need our mercy, our grace, our love and our forgiveness,” he said.
Ascension’s Knights of Columbus co-chair for the pro-life committee was also baffled by the defacement.
“It’s always frustrating. It’s always disappointing,” said the man. “If you want to voice your opinion, do it at the voting booth. To go and destroy and destruct, to me, is very juvenile.
“It doesn’t do any good. It emboldens us to be more vigilant.”
A fellow Knight agreed.
“We’ve had so much of this that my only reaction is: Why [do] people have to be violent in expressing their opinions about things?” he said. “Why can’t we have two sides to an issue, and if you have a problem with it, go vote?
“Don’t destroy a bunch of property. It’s pretty extreme in my view.”
Father Gary Pennings, pastor of Ascension, believes the church’s willingness to challenge “the ways of the world,” including its support for abortion, is what enrages people of the opposite viewpoint.
The pastor said his parish tries to respond to the continuous vandalism “with patience and charity.”
“When the Lord told his disciples to ‘turn the other cheek,’” he said, “he was not suggesting that they be timid or cowardly, but the opposite: courageous.
“He invited them to stand their ground and not yield, no matter what insults they might face. The evil one stirs up emotions, anger and revenge, but the way of the Gospel is charity and faith-filled perseverance.”
Father Pennings had a strong message for his parish family.
“I would tell my parishioners,” he said, “and all who uphold the dignity of life in the womb, to never tire of doing good, stand firm, let your faith — informed by the teaching of Christ’s church — guide your conversations and your actions.
“I would encourage them to be well-informed, to learn the truth about the issues and to never fear engaging in reasoned dialogue about why we believe what we believe.”
‘Pray for those who oppose this’
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann expressed his concern for the Catholic Church as a target of these types of attacks.
“I think it’s an effort to intimidate the church as a whole,” he said, “but also to intimidate individuals.
“And that’s not going to have that effect on us. It’s going to motivate us to do all that we can to make sure this amendment is passed for the good of Kansas.”
The archbishop said voters need to focus on what the “Value Them Both” amendment actually is.
“The amendment simply allows Kansans to determine what the public policy on abortion is going to be,” he said.
“I think it says a lot about the opposition to this that they’re so afraid to have Kansans be able to determine our public policy on protecting the unborn and mothers from the abortion industry,” he added.
The archbishop was disappointed in the crudeness of the vandalism in this case and the lack of civil debate in society around issues like abortion.
“I think if you don’t have ideas, you resort to vulgarity and efforts of bullying and intimidation like this,” he said. “We try to respect everybody and those that disagree with us on this issue.
“We respect them, we believe that they’re made in the image of God and that their lives are sacred as well. But, unfortunately, many who support this culture of death . . . don’t seem to have that same civility.”
Archbishop Naumann ultimately shared a message of hope for Catholics in the archdiocese.
“Jesus never promised us easy if we’re going to be his disciples,” he said. “I think we need to pray for those that oppose this and pray for an enlightenment and change of heart.
“We need to be even more resolved to pass ‘Value Them Both’ and to allow the people of Kansas their right to determine what our public policy will be regarding abortion.”
To learn more about the “Value Them Both” amendment, visit the website at: valuethemboth.com.