For many people of faith, especially Catholics and Orthodox Christians, churches are sacred places. An older cathedral, for example, is not a museum nor merely a relic of the past, but rather a place where it is believed that grace is given through sacraments, a place where God dwells. But, as Samuel Gregg argues in Spectator USA, Europe has lost respect for places of worship, a loss felt tangibly by the Church.
“In 2017 alone, according to France’s Interior Ministry, 878 acts of vandalism were committed against Christian places of worship, cemeteries and shrines,” Gregg points out. “That’s an average of nearly two and a half sites being targeted every day.” The motivation behind these acts, however, cannot be easily categorized. Gregg explains that in France, many acts of vandalism are committed by the homeless and most likely not motivated by anti-religious sentiments. Take into account also the surge of drug and sex trafficking which has taken place on church properties elsewhere in Europe. “In Britain between January 2017 and November 2019, more than 20,000 crimes occurred on church properties.” However, there are many instances where vandalism has been obviously animated by terrorism or hostility to religion. Several churches in France have been targeted by jihadists, marred with the words ‘Allahu Akbar!’ written on their walls.
Gregg offers a different way of looking at the problem:
I’m inclined, however, to see something else underneath this wave of destruction: the loss of a sense of the sacred throughout so much of the Old Continent…The de-Christianization of large parts of the population and public life was bound to diminish the latent sense that there is something about churches which makes them fundamentally different from other places. Many churches are now viewed as just another museum — beautiful historical buildings with many wonderful works of art, but museums nonetheless.