A new statue of the Virgin Mary has been unveiled at a Toronto church in Parkdale two years after a similar statue was vandalized on its property.
Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church in Toronto, 1515 Queen St. W., held a special ceremony following mass on Sunday to allow church leaders to bless the statue.
"This event gives the parishioners of Our Lady of Lebanon Church closure, and buries that sacrilegious act of vandalism with something beautiful and hopeful," the church said in a news release.
Bishop Paul-Marwan Tabet, head of the Maronite Eparchy of Canada, and Rev. Father Abbot Maroun Abou Jaoude, superior general of the Antonine Maronite Order, presided over the blessing of the statue.
On Aug. 30, parishioners discovered that the original Virgin Mary statue had been decapitated. At the time, Toronto police said they suspected a man had decapitated the statue after 3 a.m. that day. Police released security camera images of the man, but no arrests have been made.
The new sculpture, carved out of white marble, is a smaller version of the Our Lady of Lebanon Marian Shrine that sits on top of a hill in Harissa, Lebanon, north of Beirut.
Fadi Melhem, chair of the parish council for the church, said the statue was custom built and shipped from Italy. The stone tower has the same number of stairs as the Lebanese monument.
"We wanted to do something special," he said. "It's a symbol of country and it's a symbol of the Lebanese Mother Mary."
Melhem said the vandalism shocked parishioners, but it prompted the church community come together and build something better. He said the church forgives the man who vandalized the statue.
"The outcome was really good," he said.
He said police never located the suspect, but even if they had, it would not bring the original statue back and the feelings associated it.
Following the ceremony, Father Abbot Maroun Abou Jaoude said of the Virgin Mary: "We trust her. We put ourselves under her protection because she is the Mother of God, she is our mother, as we are brothers and sisters of her son Jesus Christ."
According to the news release, the church could not restore the original statue. The church said parishioners, among others, raised funds for the new statue and the work to have it installed, along with the landscaping, took more than 18 months.