The Ku Klux Klan marches in Ashland in the early 1920s. Klansmen targeted Holy Redeemer Church in 1926 (Oregon Historical Society)
The Ku Klux Klan marches in Ashland in the early 1920s. Klansmen targeted Holy Redeemer Church in 1926 (Oregon Historical Society)
In anticipation of possible vandalism by anarchist and/or Antifa groups over Columbus Day weekend, members of Holy Redeemer Parish in North Portland plan to pray in eucharistic adoration and keep watch on church grounds the nights of Oct. 8-11. The FBI reached out to several local Catholic churches vandalized this summer so staff and parishioners could be on alert.

“We don’t want to engage in any kind of confrontation, but we believe that by being present we can be a deterrence,” said Holy Cross Father Pat Neary, pastor of Holy Redeemer. “If anyone comes aggressively onto campus, we will contact the police.”

Columbus Day is a federal holiday, but some localities, including Oregon as of this year, recognize the day as Indigenous Peoples Day. In 2020, protestors organized what they called “Indigenous Peoples Day of Rage” and engaged in acts of destruction in downtown Portland the night of Oct. 11. The police declared it a riot.

Another “Day of Rage” is being promoted on social media this year, and the FBI is concerned that churches recently vandalized could be targeted. Four Portland Catholic parishes were vandalized this summer, though the motives in some instances are unclear.

The vandalism at Holy Redeemer, however, has been classified as a bias crime, also known as a hate crime, by the FBI. In the early hours of July 12, the church’s doors were spray painted with an obscene critique of colonialism and an anarchist symbol.

FBI agents told Father Neary that anarchist and Antifa groups traditionally have targeted banks and other institutions but that they’ve started to vandalize churches as well. Agents believe the new focus may be tied to the discovery earlier this year of more than 1,000 unmarked graves at former residential schools for Indigenous children in Canada. Most of the schools were operated by the Catholic Church.

“As offensive as the vandalism was, I believe the individuals thought they were serving the good, making an important statement,” said Father Neary. “At the deepest level I don’t think they were motivated by evil, though the manifestation of their views were misguided and not appropriate.”

October is designated Respect Life Month by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and organizers of the “Weekend of Prayer and Vigilance” at Holy Redeemer felt it was a fitting time to pray for victims of injustice as well as those who inflict injustice on others. From 8 p.m. until 1 a.m. Friday through Sunday, the church will be open for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

“Jesus told us — pray for those who persecute you, pray for your enemies,” said Father Neary. “Sometimes I think we forget to do that, to confront injustice through love.”

With prayer will come practical action. The plan is for groups of four volunteers to take two-hour shifts from 10 p.m. to 6 p.m. over the four nights. The parish is finalizing protocols, but Father Neary reiterated the goal is to deter, not engage. FBI agents said if there are people on a property and good lighting, groups are less likely to inflict destruction.

There will be sandwiches and breakfast bars for night-watch volunteers, and groups will make rounds on church and school grounds at designated intervals.

Father Neary said there have been volunteers signing up from both inside and outside the parish community and that the weekend of vigilance and prayer is bringing people together. “In an interesting way, God brings grace out of everything,” said the priest.