ST. CLOUD -- Area leaders gathered at the St. Cloud Islamic Center Thursday to show solidarity against the break-in and vandalism at the Center last week.

In the early-morning hours of September 8th, two individuals broke through a door at the Islamic Center in St. Cloud. Police say they spent about two hours in the center, sometimes carrying alcohol, which is prohibited in Islam. The couple was seen on surveillance camera at times brandishing a knife. No one was in the center at the time.

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25-year-old Victoria Catalina Veliz of New Hope and 23-year-old Logan Oliver Smith of Rogers have been charged with burglary of a religious establishment, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years. They were arrested quickly; police reported they dropped their hotel key in the center.

Jaylani Hussain is the Executive Director of CAIR Minnesota. He said the meeting is a chance for the community to come together.

We're inviting faith leaders from here in St. Cloud, as well as the Greater Minnesota community. Our hope is to have a good conversation and go beyond just the reaction to these incidents and think about how we continue to really make our place of worship safe. Also, to remind those who attack us that as difficult these incidents are for our community, they're also a meaningful opportunity to show that we will not allow their actions to divide us.

Hussain said this is the fifth time this year that a mosque has been attacked in Minnesota, a record for the state and currently the leader nationwide. St. Cloud Police say they are working with the FBI to determine if this is a bias-related crime.

St. Cloud First Presbyterian Church’s Reverend Darin Seaman says in times like this, neighbors are important. His church is across the street.

Our sacred texts invite us to love our neighbors, and we will continue to do that. You're always welcome across the street. I also want to remind (you) that your neighbors are here for you. And I hope that continues to be the case, this does not represent the majority of St. Cloud folk. Your neighbors are still here for you.

The Reverend Dee Pederson is the Bishop of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She reminded those gathered that the Islamic Center used to be the home of Bethlehem Lutheran Church.

Reverend Dee Peterson speaks at the St. Cloud Islamic Center. Jeff McMahon - WJON
Reverend Dee Peterson speaks at the St. Cloud Islamic Center. Jeff McMahon - WJON

 I served as an officer of Bethlehem Lutheran for 31 years. And this place was the first home of Bethlehem Lutheran church which was organized in 1908. This has always been a holy place, and when our holy places are violated, we all have to come together. There is such strength in this community. God always accompanied God's people through times of wilderness and pain. And we are called to accompany each other as you have called us to do today. I am so grateful for the invitation and honored for the opportunity to be here.

Officials with the St. Cloud Islamic Center estimate the couple caused $15,000 - $20,000 in damage. A Go Fund Me page has been set up to help defray the cost of repairs. To donate, click here.


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