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Catholic officials defend statue of St. Louis’ namesake

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Catholic officials say protesters calling for the removal of a statue of St. Louis’ namesake should consider all that the imperfect man did to help the poor and the sick.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis said in a statement Sunday that King Louis IX was “an example of an imperfect man who strived to live a life modeled after the life of Jesus Christ.”

The archdiocese said Louis, the ruler of France during the 13th century, opened hospitals and shared his daily meals with beggars.

The statement did not directly address criticism that Louis IX led a violent Crusade against Muslims in the Middle East. But the archdiocese said those seeking change should focus on policies that will dismantle racism and create a more equal society instead of seeking to “erase history.”

On Saturday, roughly 200 people gathered near the statue of the sword-wielding king with some calling for it to come down while others — many of them Catholic — prayed near its base.

The protests over King Louis IX’ statue comes amid calls across the country to remove other monuments, particularly those honoring Confederate leaders.

Protesters said the king-turned-saint burned manuscript copies of Jewish religious texts during the Middle Ages, while another group prayed for the monument to stay.

Nearly 200 people gathered at the Apotheosis of St. Louis, the formal name for the statue of King Louis IX atop Art Hill in Forest Park. About a dozen police officers stood between the two groups.

A few altercations happened, with one man swinging punches at another, but no one appeared to have been hurt. Police ordered another man to leave after he became angry over someone grabbing his hat when he refused to stop taking pictures.

Louis IX, the only king of France to be canonized in the Catholic Church, was lauded for giving aid to the poor and founding hospitals. But critics say he also presided over a mass burning of wagon loads of handwritten volumes of the Talmud and took part in two crusades in effort to retake previous Christian holdings from Muslims.

“The lines are clear,” said Umar Lee, one of the protest leaders, who converted to Islam at age 17. “We have one side calling for the removal of this hateful man to create a city of love.”

Lee said he had started a petition drive to remove the statue and rename the city.

Catholics have been praying at the park every night, hoping the statue stays put.

Maria Miloscia, 25, of Jefferson County, stepped up and onto the base of the statue and stood for at least an hour, quietly praying and singing religious songs to herself Saturday. She said St. Louis, in her view, represented Christ. She said she also believed the defacing of statues could easily devolve into the destruction of buildings or the murder of people.

“I think he symbolizes deep faith and convictions,” she said. “I stand for him. And I stand for those Catholic virtues and those Catholic values that I think are important, like courage, faith and love. But ultimately, I’m here for Christ the king.”

The protests over King Louis IX’ statue comes amid calls across the country to remove other monuments, particularly those honoring Confederate leaders. About three years ago, St. Louis removed a Confederate statue in Forest Park. A statue of Christopher Columbus came down from its Tower Grove Park pedestal not quite two weeks ago.

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