Christmas Eve services went on at the Our Lady of LaVang Catholic Church in Portland, Ore., after the community rallied Monday to make repairs after a man repeatedly drove his SUV into the building. The church primarily serves members of the Vietnamese community.
Hieu John Phong (35), who was arrested by Portland Police early Monday morning, drove his Acura MDX SUV into the church at least twice, driving through the doors and doing circles inside the sanctuary, destroying all the pews.
— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) December 24, 2018
As police arrived at the scene to investigate, Phong called 911 to say that he was responsible for the damage.
Police traveled to where Phong was parked nearby and took him into custody. He is being charged with first-degree criminal mischief.
A Portland Police spokesman said that Phong acted intentionally, but they have not yet stated a motive. The department’s bias crime unit is investigating the incident.
Rather than let this Grinch steal Christmas, the Portland community rallied behind the church to ensure that Christmas Eve services went ahead as scheduled.
More than 100 people showed up to clean up inside the church and repair the damage to the doors and exterior. Someone else donated enough chairs to replace the destroyed pews.
UPDATE: Our Lady of Lavang, the northeast Portland church that was rammed by an SUV this morning, will hold its Christmas Eve and Christmas services as planned. The damage has been cleared and the exterior has been boarded up. Story on crash and arrest: https://t.co/7h2pit4CtL pic.twitter.com/PItS5VBqmo
— FOX 12 Oregon KPTV (@fox12oregon) December 24, 2018
The Oregonian interviewed one contractor, Zien Phan, who, along with several dozen other volunteers, showed up with hammers, two-by-fours, and sheets of plywood to make the repairs so church services would go ahead tonight.
“I took the day off from work to help,” said Phan. “All we want is for there to be Christmas here.”
A Facebook post by Bishop Peter Smith of the Archdiocese of Portland praised the response of parishioners and the community volunteers:
A Christmas Miracle!
After hearing of the destruction at the church, parishioners of Our Lady of Lavang showed up by the hundreds this morning. In about three hours a miracle of transformation happened. Destroyed pews were removed, broken glass and damaged entrances were cleaned up, and temporary doors were installed to keep the cold out. Over a thousand folding chairs were set up. People from neighboring St Rose parish came to help, including their pastor Fr Matt Libra. One parishioner said “My faith is stronger because of this”. Parishioners are not bothered by the plywood and folding chairs because they will have all their Christmas Masses as scheduled now. The pastor Fr. Ansgar Pham said their church will be a place of pilgrimage as people come to see what has happened there.
The Archdiocese added, “Christmas comes whether someone tries to deny us our joy. Our Lord reigns!”
But the emotional damage to the members of the congregation will take longer to heal than the physical repairs to the church building.
Parishioner Emily Do told KOIN, “It is like a second community. It’s a place I call home. I’m honestly surprised someone would vandalize our church like that.”
She added that the incident makes her feel unsafe.
But it apparently isn’t keeping anyone away, as early Christmas Eve services were standing-room-only tonight.
Christmas Eve 5 pm Mass goes on as scheduled at Our Lady of Lavang Catholic Church in NE Portland – with hundreds attending at standing-room only service – despite damage from driver who plowed through parish doors early in the morning. pic.twitter.com/5piLra3jap
— Maxine Bernstein (@maxoregonian) December 25, 2018
This is a heart-warming story of a community coming together to help turn a potential tragedy into triumph this Christmas.