Vandals Damage Creche At Independence Park

Posted: January 07, 1998

The Nativity scene on Judge Lewis Quadrangle at Independence National Historical Park has been vandalized, resulting in a $1,300 repair bill and a vow by a committee member to bring back an ever bigger display next season.

``We're coming back just as strong with three additional pieces. We're going to have three wise men,'' said Arthur J. Delaney, president of the Catholic League of Philadelphia and South Jersey.

The damage was discovered about 1 p.m. Sunday, Delaney said. Marred were a statue of Mary and a plaster lamb.

In the soft glow of overhead lights on Market Street last night, the damage was not immediately noticeable. The statue's hands, broken at the wrists, were still in prayerful position, held there apparently by internal wire supports. The shattered lamb had been removed, leaving four others, heads down in classic grazing poses.

The 10-foot-square scene is the work of a committee formed by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and other interested groups, which formally petitioned the park in June for the right to put up a creche. It's the park's first Nativity scene.

Since 1976, the park has been the site of a 32-foot-tall menorah marking the Jewish season of Hanukah, or festival of lights. The menorah - a candelabra of nine lights - is installed and maintained by the Lubavitcher Center, an organization of Orthodox Jews.

Delaney said there was clear evidence that the vandal or vandals had leapt the short metal fence that surrounds the display.

``There were boot marks on Mary's chin and boot marks on the platform. They stood up there,'' he said.

Delaney said he has asked investigators to consider whether the act was a hate crime. ``At this point, it is hard to tell whether this was a reckless act of mischief or a malicious bias crime. But either way, we want to see justice is done,'' he said.

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