Man accused of vandalizing Catholic basilica in Downtown Phoenix

PHOENIX (KSAZ) -- A vandal took aim at the St. Mary's Catholic Basilica in Downtown Phoenix, and damaged several items that are more than 100 years old.

Things, however, could have been worse if not for some quick action by people inside the church.

Church staff was rearranging the church following a funeral, and setting up for Advent when a vandal came in and caused a major disruption.

"While they were doing flowers and moving things around and cleaning, a young man came in from the back of the church, and ran very quickly to the high alter," said Father Michael Weldon, who recalled the commotion that took place over the weekend.

The suspect, identified as 35-year-old Devon Thomas, was described as a transient by police. He allegedly ran into the church, and became violent.

"Ran up to the high alter and was screaming, and pulled two very old statues from the very center of the reredos and an old processional cross, and threw them down and broke all three of them on the steps of the high alter," said Weldon.

Witnesses and church employees held the man down, but the damage was already done. Statues that were more than 100 years old of an angel, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus on the cross were broken

"We thought initially we didn't want people to notice, so we cleaned it up. Then yesterday morning we decided no, we didn't want to do that, so we took the pieces of the two angel statues and the cross and put them in front of the side altar to the immaculate conception," said Weldon.

Forgiveness has come from the church, as they still plan to keep their doors open for all who need it.

"My hope is to leave them alone until Christmas," said Weldon. "I told the people we're the angels at St. Mary's. We carry the message. It's about people, not statues."

Weldon said that police suggested they lock the doors, but staff said that's simply not an option.