By CBSLA Staff

VAN NUYS (CBSLA) — A 35-year-old mural of the Virgin Mary at a local church was destroyed with a sledgehammer, and authorities are searching for the person responsible.

The pastor and parishioners at St. Elisabeth Catholic Church were left saddened and stunned when they watched the security video of the incident.

It shows a man armed with a sledgehammer vandalizing a Virgin of Guadalupe mural, which overlooks an altar where people come to pray and light candles.

Man smashes a Virgin Mary mural with a sledgehammer at a Van Nuys church.

“You feel bad, you have no words,” said Father Vito Di Marzio. “In the Catholic faith, the Virgin Mary is special because she is the mother of Jesus, the mother of God.”

Father Vito Di Marzio says the vandalism happened on Wednesday while he was sleeping on the other side of the building.

He thought someone was knocking on the door so he went back to sleep, but it wasn’t until the next morning that he discovered what happened.

The suspect smashed the face of Virgin Mary a dozen more times.

took one swing before hopping up on the altar. He then continued to angrily smash the tiles that make up the face of the Virgin Mary a dozen more times.

“I was shocked and I went to mass and I invited all the people to pray for the altar of this sacrilegious act.”

The pastor called police to report the vandalism that defaced the hand-painted ceramic mural that was installed over 35 years ago as a symbol of unity.

“I’m not angry. Since the beginning, we were praying for him that he will repent and realize that it is something very wrong,” Di Marzio said.

Father Di Marzio wants the suspect to be held accountable for what he did, but he also hopes the man will find help and healing from whatever issues he may be facing.

“For sure, he needs some help, especially medical attention. I’m sure he should ask for forgiveness and the Lord will forgive him,” he said.

The tiles are hard to repair, so they’ll have to be replaced instead, according to church leaders who also plan to install bulletproof barriers in front of the mural.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact LAPD’s Van Nuys station at 818-374-9500.