Park Slope church robbed of ‘priceless’ tabernacle

St. Augustine Church in Park Slope was robbed of their tabernacle late Thursday night.

A tabernacle is an ornate encasing that holds the consecrated eucharist, which in the Catholic religion represents the literal body of christ.

The church along 6th Avenue was broken into on Friday evening according to police. The surrounding architecture was destroyed as well. The angels surrounding the tabernacle were decapitated and the eucharist was strewn across the room.

Cops say the 18 karat gold tabernacle decorated with jewels is approximately worth $2 million. But to the parishioners, a lot more was stolen.

Diane Montemarano, 68, has attended the parish for 39 years. Her father, born in 1918, was an altar boy at the church in his youth.

“I always loved coming here because, you know, he was an altar boy, and he grew up in this parish. So, personally, it’s like, a relic of my dad was taken,” Montemarano said in an interview.

The stolen tabernacle dates back to the 1890s, from when the church was built, and is described as irreplaceable by the church due to its historical and artistic significance. Burglars cut through a steel encasing with power tools. Father Tumino said that when he walked in Saturday morning he saw the door was ajar. After he walked in and saw the destruction, he could still smell the metal shavings from the tools used to break through.

Tumino also stated that the DVR that recorded the security footage within the church was stolen as well. The Father said that the parish is working with police to see if neighboring schools or businesses caught any footage of the suspects.

Tumino also speculated that due to the construction in the neighborhood, the burglars were able to break through the steel encasing without raising suspicion.

Tumino shot down the idea of an inside job at a Sunday morning press conference.

“I know it’s easy for people to say it was an inside job. But the reality is, these are also very public buildings. And so even online, there’s a history of this church,” Tumino said. “And even the history of the church does say that there is a tabernacle and that information is accessible. And because churches are available for weddings and funerals and for mass, people do come in and out.”

“This was a place where you come to gather yourself things are going wrong. You can come here and calm down and sort of get a second boost so to speak,” Michael Okebey, 58, who has been attending services at St. Augustine’s for 35 years, said. “I feel like somebody has interrupted my relationship with God in some way.

After being asked about how he felt about the crime, knowing that the approximate value of the tabernacle is $2 million, Okebey got more stern.

“Now i’m really angry,” he said, explaining that the church is currently raising funds for other projects and that this would put them further behind.

Lest We Forget: Black Veterans on Memorial Day

Black Veterans for Social Justice, founded in 1979, is a veterans service and community-based nonprofit organization headquartered in Bed-Stuy. Every year veterans can be seen marching along the little stretch of pavement between Throop Avenue and Marcus Garvey Boulevard on Willoughby Avenue in honor of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

The annual parade, now in its 11th year, has the usual fanfare: a hot sizzling grill pumping out burgers and hot dogs, the big banners and an even bigger line of marchers, as well as refreshments to stay cool in the first sweat of summer.

Attendees at Black Veterans for Social Justice Memorial Day rally in Bed-Stuy.

“This traditionally is the start of summer. And I’ve had so many people text me saying Happy Memorial Day. And although I say thank you, or sometimes I just give a thumbs up emoji. But Memorial Day is to commemorate those who have fallen, primarily on active duty, but we want to remember those who are soldiers for life, and who did not get a chance to enjoy the fruits of their retirement,” Walter Gist, a veterans outreach coordinator with the Services for the Underserved, said.

Gist is manning one of the many different types of services tables Black Veterans for Social Justice hosts to connect veterans with different kinds of support services ranging from job training and interview preparation to helping people apply for social services like ERAP funding, a pandemic-era rent relief program.

William Lugo has been attending the Black Veterans for Social Justice parade since its inception. It’s the easiest for him to get to at 73-years-old, as a local resident of Bed-Stuy. Lugo said the parade has helped him in the past get connected with all his benefits.

“Remember the men and women died defending this country,” Lugo said in an interview. “That’s why there will always be a Memorial Day.”

While thanking a veteran for their service may seem customary in today’s America, Vietnam Veteran Errol Vanmooden said that Americans have still failed to recognize the service of his fellow Vietnam service members.

“I remember my fallen brother in Vietnam. I remember the good times and the bad. I remember the holidays. Christmas, Birthdays. I remember the disrespectful welcome that I received back from Vietnam. I remember one person saying ‘are you part of the baby killers?’,” Vanmooden said.

While Vanmooden says he wants the day to be about celebrating the contributions of fallen soldiers, he couldn’t shake the bad memories that come with the day.

He remembers when he was injured on the battlefield, his buddies coming to help him. He was the only Black member of his unit, but that didn’t matter. Army green was the only color that mattered, he said.

He remembers his 22nd birthday. He was awoken by a barrage of heavy artillery fire early one morning in the jungles of Vietnam. Rockets would land and get stuck in the thick mud. He was sure he was going to die.

“I remember my brothers were always there for me,” Vanmooden said solemnly.

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