Vice President Mike Pence Meets With Pastors, Parishioners of Three Historically Black Churches Destroyed by Arson in Louisiana, Praises Them for ‘Resilience and Faith’ Amid ‘Unspeakable Evil’

Vice President Mike Pence tours Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church with pastors from three historically black churches in St. Landry Parish that were intentionally burned Friday, May 3, 2019, in Opelousas, La. Pictured, from left, are Rev. Kevin Sylvester of St. Mary Baptist Church, Rev. Gerald Toussaint of Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, Rev. Harry Richard of Greater Union Baptist Church and Rev. Freddie Jack, president of the Seventh District Missionary Baptist Association.
Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK

Vice President Mike Pence visited with parishioners at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church on Friday, decrying continued attacks against communities of faith against the backdrop of the charred worship house.

Mt. Pleasant was the last of three churches destroyed by accused arsonist Holden Matthews between March 26 and April 4. All three churches — St. Mary Baptist in Port Barre, Greater Union Baptist in Opelousas and Mt. Pleasant Baptist in Opelousas — were historically black churches in the small community of St. Landry Parish.

Pence said the “attacks on communities of faith must stop,” as gathered parishioners nodded in agreement.

“Sadly, we live in a time when attacks on communities of faith have been all too frequent. The fires here at Mt. Pleasant, Greater Union and St. Mary’s are part of a story that continued last week in California at a synagogue, last fall in Pittsburgh, at a mosque in New Zealand and at churches on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka,” Pence said.

The vice president praised the charity, steadfastness and positive example the group of roughly a dozen parishioners and community members showed in the face of evil. Matthews, the accused arsonist, was charged with three state hate crime counts in connection with the fires.

“Your resilience, your faith and your courage in the wake of this unspeakable evil has inspired the nation,” Pence said.

He said he was especially touched by the compassion the church members and pastors showed Matthews after he was apprehended.

“You’ve overcome evil with good,” he said.

The vice president flew into Lafayette Regional Airport around noon where he met with families and community members before traveling to Mt. Pleasant. He was joined by a contingent of Louisiana elected officials, including Gov. John Bel Edwards, most of the Louisiana Congressional delegation and Attorney General Jeff Landry.

St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz and State Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning, whose organization headed the arson investigations, were also present.

The Rev. Harry Richard, of Greater Union Baptist Church, said he was appreciative of the elected officials’ continued support and for the presence of Vice President Pence. He said it confirmed that there’s people ready to help during these trials.

“I can’t express enough how the love of God has shown up in you guys,” he said.

Pence took a moment with each parishioner shortly after he arrived at the church. Congregants said he offered prayers, asked about their well-being and prayed with them, some on the receiving line and others in private moments. He also offered thanks that no one was injured in any of the fires.

The vice president also took a private moment when he first arrived to meet with the three pastors of the effected churches and the Rev. Freddie Jack, president of the Seventh District Missionary Baptist Association.

Pence’s visit came one month after the destruction of the churches. The vice president and President Donald Trump were criticized at the time for their lack of immediate response to the St. Landry fires, especially after their vocal support of France and Notre Dame Cathedral when the storied church was damaged following an accidental fire only a week later.

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SOURCE: The Advocate, Kate Gagliano