On Feb. 20, the Department of Public Safety reported that the statue of Our Lady of Fatima on Copley Lawn was defaced with black paint. It is impossible to tell whether the perpetrator was a religiously motivated vandal, a drunken reveler, a jokester with bad taste or a delinquent who happened upon the statue after wandering onto campus.

Regardless, students and staff expressed pain and disbelief at the vandalization of one of the most visible symbols of the Catholic faith at Georgetown. In an effort to bring about unity and healing, members of the Catholic Students Association, the Georgetown Catholic Daughters and the Georgetown Knights of Columbus held a 24-hour vigil in front of the statue last Thursday. Every hour, at least two students prayed in devotion to the Blessed Mother.

We applaud this response and hope that Georgetown’s community of faith will not have to deal with another insensitive act of this kind in the future.

At Georgetown, where Catholic precepts and symbols are often intimately integrated into our academic life, it is sometimes difficult to see Catholicism as more than an institution and to feel sympathy for Catholic students who are offended by acts of this kind.

If a symbol of a minority faith on campus – Protestant Christianity, Islam or Judaism, for example – had been defaced, the Office of Campus Ministry would likely have sent out the same e-mail, but campus would also have been well aware of which group of students had been affected. The defacement of the Blessed Mother statue has caused just as much pain to the Catholic community – it’s important not to forget this human element. Our university’s Catholic identity does not make this vandalism any less an affront to individual students’ religious sensibilities.

The university and DPS should make a note to address this vandalism evenhandedly. If the perpetrator is ever caught, the punishment should not be any harsher or more lenient than if the target had been a minority faith on campus. This is important to guarantee the transparency and fairness of the adjudication process and to sustain the unity and equality among the diversity faiths at Georgetown. Our collective response to acts of vandalism, if sensitive and measured, can help prevent incidences in the future.

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