NORWOOD — When Easter dawned at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, freshly planted flowers surrounded a statue of the Virgin Mary. Her face, spray-painted by vandals sometime during the night of Good Friday, was partially scrubbed clean.
And when parishioners gathered for Mass later Sunday morning, many were trying to forgive.
“It’s sad, but it will bring people closer together,” said John Donovan, who came to church with his family. “It will bring more good than bad in the long run.”
The statue, which stands in a garden outside the parish school, was defaced with black spray paint sometime overnight Friday, according to authorities. Norwood police sought the public’s help in identifying the perpetrators but had no further information Sunday.
The congregation overflowed into the entryway of the church as the Very Rev. Brian Kiely delivered his homily.
“Justice does not always make our world a better place,” he said, urging mercy, love, and compassion among those who might want “to get back at” the person or people responsible.
Kiely recalled Jesus saying, when he was upon the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
After Mass, parishioners went outside and surveyed the damage to the statue. While much of the paint had been removed, dark gray remnants were still visible. Some parishioners placed bouquets alongside the flowers, which well-wishers had planted Saturday.
The Rev. Stephen Donohoe, pastor at St. Catherine, said the statue had been outside the school “for generations” and said many of his older parishioners had taken their First Communion photos next to it.
“It evokes lots of memories for people,” he said. “People have been very moved by [what happened]. It’s my hope that it will strengthen their faith.”
On Saturday, the upper body of the statue was found covered in black spray paint, with an unidentified symbol painted on the base. While a parishioner who is also a contractor led the effort Saturday to clean the statue, Donohoe said experts would be brought in to attempt to restore it fully.
Donohoe also said he would be talking with students about the incident.
Krista Cardini’s two young children attend St. Catherine of Siena School. She said her 11-year-old daughter was “very upset” when she found out about the statue through friends on social media.
Shannon Connell’s three children also learned of the vandalism outside their school on social media.
“They didn’t know how to process it,” she said.
In a tweet posted Saturday night, Norwood police asked the public for help. “Statue defiled last night at St. Catherine’s,” the tweet said. “Father is asking for prayers, but we could also use some leads. If you know something call us.”
A Norwood police spokesman was not available for comment Sunday afternoon.
A spokesman for the Norfolk district attorney’s office said they were “willing and able to assist” if needed but said police had not contacted them.
Jeremiah Donovan, parishioner John Donovan’s brother, said the incident had not put a damper on the holiday for him. “It will only make us stronger,” he said.
Their mother, Rosie Donovan, added, “I believe in forgiveness, and I pray for that person.”
Globe correspondent Alexandra Koktsidis contributed to this report. Reenat Sinay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @rensinay