Home Christian News Church Known for Helping Poor Damaged in Portland Riot

Church Known for Helping Poor Damaged in Portland Riot

Portland riot

During a midweek, post-election riot in Portland, Oregon, protesters smashed windows and doors at a Catholic Church known for its outreach to people experiencing homelessness and other crises. Saint André Bessette has had to temporarily stop providing shelter and drop-in services, which include showers, a kitchen, and washing machines after the Portland riot.

The 101-year-old church, known as the Downtown Chapel, usually assists hundreds of people per day, including those facing addiction and mental-health issues. It was among several buildings damaged Wednesday night when a Defend Democracy rally turned destructive. At least 11 people were arrested during what police declared a riot. In video posted to social media, some protesters can be heard shouting, “Black lives matter!”

Local Officials Decry the Pointless Acts

Community leaders expressed outrage at the damage, saying Saint André Bessette’s services are needed now more than ever. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who activated the National Guard, condemned the violence, saying, “Indiscriminate destruction solves nothing.”

Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese called the “criminal activity…reprehensible,” saying it “impacts all Oregonians.” He added, “The loss of shelter beds due to violence and vandalism comes at a time when we desperately need safe space for vulnerable individuals to seek refuge from a pandemic and colder, rainier weather. This hurts the community’s efforts to get people off the streets and connected to the crucial resources they need.”

Archbishop Calls for Unity, Peace

Throughout a summer marked by unrest and demands for racial justice, Portland Archbishop Alexander Sample urged Catholics to stay calm and work toward healing. In a July video message, he addressed the violence that erupted in Portland and throughout America after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. “I have been very supportive of the peaceful demonstrations on behalf of justice and against racism,” he said then. “But sadly, that’s not what this is about any more.”

Last month, Archbishop Sample led a rosary and Eucharistic procession for the intention of peace in Portland. “There is no better time than in the wake of civil unrest and the eve of the elections to come together in prayer,” he said. “The Catholic Church takes the promotion of unity, and accordingly peace, as belonging to the innermost nature of the Church. For this reason, the Church fosters solidarity among peoples, and calls peoples and nations to sacrifices of advantages of power and wealth for the sake of solidarity of the human family.”

That October 17 event, which included a Latin exorcism rite meant to cleanse a community of evil, drew about 200 participants. Carolina Ruth Valdez, who attends another parish, told a reporter, “What we did contrasts with what has been going on in our city and all this disarray. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. No Jesus, no peace.”

Another attendee, Sandra Kvalheim, said people of faith need to be visible peacemakers out in public so others “see that their religion is so important to them.”

Church officials haven’t yet commented on the damage to Saint André Bessette—or indicated when it might be able to reopen and resume worship and outreach.

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 28 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her family.