Cops nab suspect in St. Athanasius desecration

May 24, 2021 Jaime DeJesus
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Police arrested a man who allegedly destroyed a statue of Jesus Christ and burned an American flag at St. Athanasius Church May 13.

Ali Alaheri, 29, was arrested May 22 and charged with criminal mischief as a hate crime.

Cops said Alaheri entered the grounds of the church on Bay Parkway and 61st Street at 1:36 a.m., tore down the statue and burned a flag on the front of a church building.

“When I came out in the morning at 8 a.m., people were standing here asking what happened,” said Msgr. David Cassato, the church’s pastor. “It was a terrible morning. It was probably the saddest day of my life to see this desecration of the cross of Jesus and the flag.”

Later that day, hundreds of people attended a prayer vigil at the church. That weekend, mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa gave Cassato a flag that shows Jesus clutching the stars and stripes. It says, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.” City Council candidate Brian Fox was also in attendance.

Hundreds of people attended a vigil at St. Athanasius Church the day after it was vandalized. Photos courtesy of St. Athanasius

On May 23, U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis gave Cassato a new American flag, which had flown over the U.S. Capitol. 

U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis presents an American flag to Msgr. David Cassato. Ebrooklyn media photo by Arthur De Gaeta

“Like so many New Yorkers and Americans, we were very upset to learn about the desecration and vandalism that happened here,” Malliotakis said. “It was truly an awful thing to read about and thankfully that individual has been caught and is being charged with the proper crime.”

St. Athanasius was the first of two locations to be desecrated on consecutive days. On May 14, a statue of the baby Jesus was beheaded outside the administrative offices of the Diocese of Brooklyn, 310 Prospect Park West.

“We are definitely concerned that there is a pattern of hate crimes against Catholics,” said Msgr. Anthony M. Hernandez, moderator of the Curia for the diocese. 

A statue of the baby Jesus was beheaded outside the administrative offices of the Diocese of Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Brooklyn

Update: The article has been updated. The flag presented to Monsignor David Cassato and the church was donated by mayoral candidate Curtis Sliwa.

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