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Father Geoffrey Fontelera Baraan, right, gets a hug from a community member outside St. Annes Catholic Church on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012 in Union City, Calif. Vandals spray painted pentagrams on the outside walls of the church, broke statues and a cross. (Aric Crabb/Staff)

UNION CITY -- Vandals desecrated a Catholic church, destroying a cross, defacing statues and spray-painting graffiti with satanic symbols -- acts discovered on Ash Wednesday that police have classified as a hate crime.

The vandalism was discovered at St. Anne Catholic Church around 7 a.m., about an hour before services were scheduled for the first day of Lent, a 40-day season of fasting and prayer before the Easter holiday.

"This is terrible and very disturbing," said the Rev. Geoffrey Baraan, the church's pastor for the past six years. "I'm still shaking with fear and wonder and disbelief."

Peter Petit, a longtime parishioner, discovered the damage when he arrived to unlock the house of worship built at Cabello and Dyer streets in 1982.

He said he was shocked to find the front of the church spray-painted in two places with a circled pentagram -- a common satanic symbol -- surrounded by the words "Satan" and the Latin phrase "Carpe Noctem," meaning "Seize the night."

Vandals destroyed a wooden cross and knocked over a statue resembling a stone tablet.

A second statue of the Holy Family also was damaged, as vandals covered in black paint the faces of the Virgin Mary and Joseph, and spray-painted a small pentagram on each of their chests. The statue's third figure -- Jesus as a child -- was not harmed.

Baraan said he agrees with police's decision to treat the incident as a hate crime.

"These are not kids doing something for fun," he said. "When you see the word, Satan, we're being hated for who we are."

Church officials said they could not recall the St. Anne parish ever facing violence or vandalism, noting that the church frequently helps the community and serves free meals twice per month to the needy.

"The church is a symbol of Christian and family values, and here you have someone striking out at it," Petit said. "It's appalling for something like this to happen. It's hard to fathom."

Investigators have contacted regional and state authorities to determine whether there have been similar incidents, but they have not detected a pattern, Union City police Cmdr. Ben Horner said.

"As of now, we believe this is an isolated incident," Horner said.

The vandalism was especially upsetting to parishioners because it happened on Ash Wednesday, one of the faith's most signif- icant days, church officials said.

Baraan said in his sermon that, though anger was understandable, parishioners should react with restraint and prayer.

"They destroyed the cross, the best symbol of love, forgiveness and understanding," he said. "But we'll get up and carry that cross again."

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.