Vice President Mike Pence meets with religious leaders of three destroyed churches

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OPELOUSAS, La. (AP) – Vice President Mike Pence has come to Louisiana to show his support for members of three black churches burned by an arsonist. Pence arrived Friday and is scheduled to meet with community leaders and parishioners of the three churches.

He also visit edMount Pleasant Baptist Church, one of the burned churches. The Rev. Gerald Toussaint says he and pastors from the other churches will meet with the vice president.

A local sheriff’s deputy’s 21-year-old son, Holden Matthews, has been charged in the March and April burnings with offenses including arson.

He’s pleaded not guilty. A crowdfunding campaign for the churches’ restoration has raised more than $2.1 million.

From Louisiana, Pence will travel to Kentucky where he’ll visit a small company to talk trade and attend the Kentucky Governor’s Ball.

Read Vice President Pence’s statements from Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, sent from his office Friday afternoon. 

Well, thank you all for being here. I want to thank Reverend Jack and all the pastors from the churches impacted by the fires a little more than a month ago.

What happened here at Mount Pleasant, at Greater Union, at Saint Mary’s was evil. But these communities of faith have overcome evil with good

. And I wanted to be here today just simply to tell all of you, on behalf our President, on behalf of all of the American people, that we’re with you.

We’re praying for you. And we’re standing with you. And we know these churches and this community will rebuild bigger and better than ever before.

Your resilience and your faith and your courage in the wake of this unspeakable evil has inspired the nation.

Now, I had to come here to express that to you. But not just me. I’m honored to be joined by other public officials who’ve made time to be with us today and I know who have been standing with you from the very first day and the very first fire.

And I want to thank Governor Edwards for being with us today, for the outstanding effort your law enforcement team at the state level did. I want to thank Attorney General Landry, who is with us today.

And I met the law enforcement officer today who brought the suspect to justice just a few short days after these horrific fires.

And we commend the law enforcement community at the state and local level for the outstanding work that they did working in this community to bring that person to justice.

And I also want to thank Senator Cassidy and Congressman Scalise and the better part of the entire delegation in the Congress from Louisiana who are joining us today.

It blesses my heart to be with all of you today and to see the way this community has come together with a commitment to rebuild and to rebuild on a foundation of faith. You know, sadly, we live in a time when attacks on communities of faith have become all too frequent.

The fires here at Mount Pleasant, at Greater Union, at Saint 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.

No one should ever fear for their safety in a house of worship anywhere in this country, anywhere in the world

. And these attacks on communities of faith must stop. Let me say to each and every one of you gathered here, though, that your example in the wake of this evil — and not just of the churches of Mount Pleasant and Saint Mary’s and Greater Union, but also, Reverend Jack, of all of the communities of faith in this area and all across Louisiana has truly been inspiring.

To see the way people of faith responded not with anger but with charity. And to think of churches burning one day after another, and how people might have responded, and to see the way people, here in these churches and this community and across Louisiana, responded is an inspiration to the nation.

After what happened at Saint Mary’s and here at Mount Pleasant and Greater Union, you overcame evil with good. And, Reverend Toussaint, I particularly was moved when you said, after the suspect was apprehended, that we’ve got to forgive him.

You lived out your faith and had a testimony for Christ that echoed across the country. And I must tell you also: It was very inspirational to us to know that you still had Easter services right here at Mount Pleasant. There’s a verse that says, ‘If the foundation crumbles, how can the righteous stand?’

And as I arrived today, the pastors and I spoke about the fact that while these — the structure of these churches burned, what was evident to people all across the America is the foundation was firm — a foundation of faith and heart to charity.

And I know, in my heart of hearts, based on that witness of faith and the generous outpouring of people across this state and across this nation, with great leadership at the state and federal level, and with great leadership in the pulpits of not only these three churches but all the churches across this area, that the best days for these three churches, for faith in Louisiana and faith in America, are yet to come.

So thank you all very much. 

Read the meeting’s full transcript here.

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