A senseless act of vandalism has sent shockwaves through the Santiago Retreat Center in Orange County, California. Unknown individuals sawed down a 14-foot cross on the premises, prompting an investigation into the incident as a possible hate crime, as reported by the Orange County Register.
Mark McElrath, the executive director of the Santiago Center, expressed his deep confusion, stating, “It’s still a mystery why someone filled with hate would destroy the cross using a chainsaw.”
The targeted cross had been recently dedicated during a retreat held just before Father’s Day. Nestled within the serene Silverado Canyon on a sprawling 500-acre retreat center, located approximately 14 miles away from the city of Orange, the center encompasses four distinct retreat areas and provides accommodations for 500 overnight guests.
Authorities suspect that the act of vandalism occurred between 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 28, and 6 a.m. on Thursday, June 29. Sergeant Frank Gonzalez of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department confirmed that they are treating the incident as a potential hate crime and stated, “We are actively pursuing leads.”
Fortunately, the retreat center’s ongoing vacation Bible camp for school children in grades K-8 was not affected, as none of the attendees were present at the time of the incident.
McGrath acknowledged that it is unclear whether the retreat center’s security protocol, which operates 24 hours a day, includes surveillance cameras.
Father Glenn Baaten, the chaplain of the Santiago Retreat Center, shared his reflections on the act of vandalism, saying, “I felt a deep sadness, although in these times we live, it may not be entirely surprising.” In a statement on the retreat center’s website released on June 30, he added, “In 1 Corinthians 1:18 of the Bible, the cross is seen as ‘foolishness’ to those who don’t believe. Yet, to those who have faith in Jesus Christ, the cross represents the ‘power of God’.”
Baaten continued, “Our prayers are with the soul of the person who cut down our cross. Through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, redemption is available to all. Just as forgiveness and redemption were extended to the thief next to Jesus on the cross, they are also extended to the person who committed this act.”
McGrath assured that the cross will be replaced, thanks to the overwhelming support and generous donations pouring in from well-wishers of the retreat center.