Courtesy A.E. Araiza, Arizona Daily Star
Ivan Burrell, a maintenance worker and janitor, removes the graffiti in front of the San Xavier del Bac Mission located on the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation, April 7, 2016.

Tohono O’odham Seek to Heal Following Vandalism

Gabriela Maya Bernadett

On the morning of April 7, members of the San Xavier District, one of the 11 districts of the Tohono O’odham Nation, found graffiti such as “666,” “Hail Satan,” and “BK” – an alleged gang sign – sprayed on the walls, pillars, and an archway of Mission San Xavier del Bac, a Catholic church located within the district. A nearby tribal cemetery was also hit.

In an interview with ICTMN, tribal member Troy Parra, who resides in the San Xavier District and lives across the street from the church, said he was shocked when he discovered what had happened.

“I’d woken up and I instantly checked my phone. I received some text messages asking if I saw or heard what happened here,” Parra said. “I said no. Then I received some pictures of some of the taggings, and living across the street my whole life, I was just kinda ... more like a what the hell, like really?”

According to its website, the church has been an integral part of O’odham heritage since it was built in the 1700s. The mission was founded by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692, and the O’odham people built the mission between 1783 and 1797.

A cemetery on the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation was also vandalized with allegedly Satanic graffiti on April 7, 2016. Courtesy Tucson News Now, KOLD News 13.

In 1963, the church was recognized as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, and in 1978 Patronato San Xavier was established to oversee preservation and fundraising of the mission. The church holds a special place not only in the O’odham community, but in the Tucson community as a whole. Tourists from all over the world visit the church, known as the “White Dove of the Desert,” and it is an active Catholic church that regularly offers mass and operates a small school.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, President of the Patronato San Xavier board of directors Chuck Albanese said of the graffiti that “it’s a sacrilege against the mission that represents all the values of this community, well beyond the church.”

Patronato San Xavier sent a crew out to the mission to help clean, and they along with other community members were able to scrub most of the graffiti off by the end of the day. Parra stopped by throughout the day offering Gatorade and water to the crew.

The Satanic Temple of Arizona released a statement condemning the vandalism. “We are dismayed to see allegedly ‘Satanic’ graffiti marring this historical landmark and place of worship,” the statement read. “The Satanic Temple does not condone vandalism in any form.”

When asked how the community plans to move forward from this incident, Parra said many people in the community are Catholic, so they held a Rosary the evening of the incident.

“I’m pretty sure everyone’s ready to move on from that, forgive,” Parra said. “Try to take things if something like this happens, you know, remind them not to let the anger take over. Forgive them, pray for their families. Us Natives, a big thing in our lives is praying. That’s what we do here.”

So far there are no suspects.

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
(from the article): When asked how the community plans to move forward from this incident, Parra said many people in the community are Catholic, so they held a Rosary the evening of the incident________________________________________________________ I would have thought maybe install some security cameras, hire a security patrol, maybe have neighborhood watch keep an eye out, but okay, if saying a rosary makes you feel better.

tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
It really is a pretty and steadfast church-area-mission over the centuries. If the structure has lasted and risen from the decay of dilapidated conditions once was, then what is a 5 cans of Wal Mart spay paint @ 6.00 a piece = $30.00. Nobody can afford spending $20.00 - $30.00 for vandalizing again and again and using somebody's name. Sometimes, you dont really to need to look far and wide to figure who the culprits are, i.e. within the community. Or at least the suspects aren't being reported.

bullbear's picture
Submitted by bullbear on
I have gone to see this wondrous "White Dove of the Desert" and was slightly surprised upon arrival to see that, from the parking lot to the mission it was all so very open. Nobody in front to greet or show some referenced to security. With the thousands of visitors each year, this federally designated U.S. National Historic Landmark for more 50-years should be required to have security measures in place for the public. This may be the answer to preventing future vandalism. Otherwise, start doing some fundraising in preparation for destructive behaviors by people who have no sense of religion and will only feel remorse if they ever caught and end up in Joe Arpaio's hell hole.