CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s been part of a Bridgeport parish for more than a century, but now a historic copper cross sits damaged after an attack by vandals.

The pastor at St. Mary of Perpetual Help discovered the damaged cross Tuesday morning. As CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports, the destruction shocked the church’s neighbors, whether they attend St. Mary or not.

At the start of the holiest week on the Christian calendar, someone committed a most unholy act.

“How could somebody desecrate a cross like that?” former parishioner Paul Brozek said. “It’s a shame. It’s just, it’s appalling, to be honest with you.”

The eight-foot-tall copper cross, which sits in front of the rectory was left dented, bent, and twisted.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports

Bridgeport resident Benn Huey said he has no idea who would want to do something like that.

“You never know exactly who, but it could be your salvage guys; they figure they’ll try and do it at night, so nobody sees it,” he said.

Police said the vandals struck sometime after midnight, before dawn on Tuesday.

Michael Anthony said when he parked his truck at 4 a.m. Tuesday, the cross looked fine.

“This is a church, this is sacred ground, this is a sanctuary; for them, and the parishioners. The neighborhood clings to this kind of thing. This is a centerpiece of the neighborhood. That means something to most people,” Anthony said.

Father Donald Craig has seen copper stolen from the church complex before.

“Three years ago, in the middle of the day, I chased a man down the street here; he had just ripped off the copper gutters that sit behind the cross,” he said. “I chased him down the street and got him to drop the gutters.”

Craig said he believes the vandalism of the cross wasn’t an attempt to steal it, but was simple desecration. He said if someone had wanted to steal the cross for the copper, they would have done it a long time ago.

Now, he said his parishioners must forgive whoever acted in hate.

“The only thing we can do is pray for this person and remember the words of Jesus from the cross: ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,’” he said.

The cross had stood atop the parish school since 1895, but was moved outside the rectory when the school closed in 2000. It was a memorial to all who attended the old elementary and high school throughout the years.

Several parishioners and parish neighbors have already contacted Craig with offers of help to get the cross repaired, or – if that’s not possible – to have it replaced.

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