Still under construction, Serenity Memorial Park is dedicated to Peoria, Ill., residents who have lost a loved one to violence.
But last week, the centerpiece of the South Peoria park — an imported statue of Jesus Christ — was the victim of violence: the hands were busted off and the face was bashed in. The $15,000 statue — which includes a plaque bearing the scripture, “Love one another as I have loved you” — might be irreparable.
“It’s so sad,” says Pierre Serafin, whose family since 1977 has owned UFS Downtown Outlet Center, 1800 SW Adams St., the main mover behind the park. ... “We thought it was a symbol of peace. How ironic.”
The park got its start last year on a triangle of land owned by UFS at Jefferson, George and Center streets. When the 88-year-old South Side Business Club disbanded, its finances were distributed among 11 local charities and concerns. About $1,200 went toward the park, where a patio was installed.
The goal was to create a gathering place to memorialize victims of violence. Upon its completion, Serafin planned to invite pastors and leaders of multiple denominations of churches to dedicate the park.
“We always thought it’d be a rally point for prayer,” he says.
As such, UFS paid $15,000 for an Italian-made Jesus statue, crafted of a hard, composite material. Arms stretched out, the statue faced toward traffic on Jefferson Avenue.
“We thought it was a way of reaching out to the community,” Serafin says. “No matter your beliefs, the good Lord was a symbol of peace.
“It wasn’t a Catholic thing. It wasn’t a Lutheran thing. It wasn’t a Baptist thing. It was a community thing.”
And it was an ongoing thing. Boy Scouts and other volunteers were preparing to add shrubbery, benches and other touches to give the park a more welcoming feel.
But all that’s on hold now.
On the night of July 2, vandalism hit the park — hard. The statue’s tough material would not have been easy to damage, Serafin says.
“It was malicious,” he says. “They had to work really hard to break the hands off.”
From talking to motorists who had passed by the statue that night, Serafin thinks the attack happened about 10:30 p.m. But other than that, there are no clues.
“It’s vandalism,” he says. “Unfortunately, it’s an expression of where we are as a city right now and where many urban centers are right now.”
Not that he thinks the crime will ultimately go unpunished.
“I’d be a little leery of vandalizing a statue of the good Lord, because one day you will stand before Him,” he says. ” ... I’m thinking of putting a sign around the neck saying, ‘Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.’”
Meanwhile, in communicating with the statue’s manufacturer, Serafin hasn’t had much good news. Though the hands might be replaceable, the face likely can’t be fixed. He isn’t sure exactly what to do next.
“I feel I’ve poured money down a hole,” he says. “It’s frustrating.”