Updated 1:42 p.m.
Churchgoers were stunned this morning as they arrived for Ash Wednesday mass at St. Anne's Catholic Church.
A vandal struck overnight, knocking over a cross on the church's front lawn, spraypainting over the faces of the Holy Family statues and writing satanic messages.
The vandal, or vandals, wrote "carpe noctem," which is Latin for "seize the night," with a pentagram and "Satan" alongside one of the church's walls and on the second story of the church.
"This is very disturbing that we see this early morning on Ash Wednesday," Fr. Geoffrey Baraan said. "This is a very special time for us."
"I never thought it would happen here. We've always been so friendly and welcoming," he added.
According to Baraan, this is the first time in the church's history that its property has been vandalized.
Peter Petit, a facility worker at the church, discovered the desecrated religious symbols at about 7 a.m. Wednesday.
Baraan wasn't concerned about the physical damage, but the emotional impact the vandalism would cause to its 4,000 members.
"It's more about the emotional damage the community feels when something like this happens," he said.
"Especially on Ash Wednesday when people are supposed to repent their sins," Petit added.
Police crews dusted for evidence as the church's parking lot filled with members arriving for noon mass. Some cried at the sight of vandalism.
"I can't believe that this has happened to our church," church member Olga Villa, 59. "I'm still getting chills."
"It broke our hearts," Jorge Villa, 63, said. He and his wife Olga have been going to the church for more than 30 years, since it was at its original location on Smith Street.
City Council member Pat Gacoscos, also a St. Anne's member of 30 years, attended the Wednesday morning mass where she saw the sacrilegious markings.
"It could happen anywhere -- but here?" Gacoscos said. "I'm very disappointed."
Farah Habad, a youth leader from the Islamic Society of the East Bay mosque on the Union City-Fremont border, visited St. Anne's following its noon mass to offer support and stand in soidarity with the religious community.
"I came to let them know that there's a helping hand," he said.
Though Union City's graffiti buster was on scene to clean the mess, Baraan asked to leave the vandalism to serve as a lesson for today's services.
"I told them that in spite of all these things, don't react with anger but with love and prayer," Baraan said. "We need to react in a Christian way and pray for those who hate us."
"Hopefully it will not happen in other communities and institutions," he added.
According to the Union City Police Department, no similar incidents have yet been reported in Union City.
The case is being classified as a hate crime, said Cmdr. Ben Horner.
"We will be reaching out to other agencies to see if there are samiliar vandalisms in the area, not only locally but statewide," Horner said.
"We believe it’s an isolated incident and have no reason to believe that it’s attached to an organized group," he added.
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