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A statue of the late Pope John Paul II, standing at the Holy Rosary Catholic Church, has been vandalized with red paint splatter and handprints, in Edmonton on June 27, 2021.Rob Drinkwater/The Canadian Press

A statue was vandalized at a Catholic church in Edmonton on the weekend, one of a string of recent acts against Catholic churches following the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at two former residential school sites.

Police in Edmonton say a female suspect was seen vandalizing a statue of Pope John Paul ll with paint outside of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church north of the city’s downtown late Saturday night.

The base of the statue was defaced with red paint and red handprints.

Last Thursday, the front of a Saskatoon cathedral was tagged with red handprints and the words “we were children” were painted on the doors.

Police in B.C. are also investigating four recent fires -- two this weekend -- that destroyed Catholic churches in that province’s southern Interior.

Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton Richard Smith says in a statement that they are saddened by the vandalism and that the parish and archdiocese “stand with the Indigenous Peoples in this moment of profound sorrow.”

“At a time when our country is acutely aware of the need for reconciliation with the Indigenous Peoples of this land, it is helpful to recall the words with which Pope John Paul II, during his 1987 visit to Fort Simpson, strongly affirmed the inherent goodness of Indigenous culture and traditions, and expressed solidarity with the First Nations, Metis and Innu Peoples in defense of their rights,” Smith said in the statement.

Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan announced Thursday that ground-penetrating radar indicated 751 unmarked graves at the site of the former Marieval Indian Residential School. Earlier this month, what’s believed to be the remains of 215 children were located using the same technology in unmarked graves at a former residential school site in Kamloops, B.C.

Pope Benedict XVI expressed “sorrow” over the church’s role in operating many residential schools in a statement in 2009, and the current pontiff, Francis, has also stopped short of a formal apology.

Police in Edmonton say their Hate Crimes and Violent Extremism Unit has been notified about the vandalism to the statue.

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