The Marian statue in Wanjin's Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was damaged by a vandal on Aug.3. (Photo from Pingtung Fire Bureau)
A man with a history of mental illness has been arrested for setting a wooden Marian statue on fire in Taiwan's oldest church.
After reviewing video footage of the Aug. 3 incident, police arrested a suspect named Pan on Aug. 4 for damaging the statue in the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in the small town of Wanjin, southern Pingtung county.
The suspect admitted to the act of vandalism and said the Virgin Mary was his wife, according to local media.
Father Anselm Hsu told ucanews.com that the suspect is not a Catholic.
"But I have seen this man several times before as he lives nearby," said Father Hsu.
"The police has to investigate further even if Pan has admitted his crime," said the Dominican priest at the 140-year-old church in Kaohsiung Diocese.
"It is lucky that only the clothes of the statue and the spotlight were burnt and no one was harmed," he said.
"It is a dilemma for us to enhance more security measures when we want the church to reach out to people."
With four to five coaches bringing hundreds of pilgrims daily to the church, the Marian shrine always remains open. The church is also a popular location for couples, including non-Catholics, for wedding photos.
Located in the front left side of the altar, the 60-year-old wooden statue stands on a sedan and it is used during processions for important church feast days.
"After the forensic investigation is completed, we will replace the statue's featured clothes. We will repaint the surface, which got burnt and turned black from the fire," said Father Hsu.
Catholicism was introduced to Wanjin in 1861 and a church was built two years later. In 1869, Father Francisco Herce bought a plot of land in the town to build a new church, which is now the Minor Basilica. The Spanish-style building was consecrated on Dec. 8, 1870, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
In 1984, Pope John Paul II established the church as a Minor Basilica and the Interior Ministry of Taiwan named it as a county relic the next year.
Wanjin has a Catholic population of 3,000. It is the only predominately Catholic town in Taiwan. Kaoshiung Diocese has around 45,000 Catholics.