A person who claims to be a parishioner at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Downtown Flushing is concerned about the tombstones being damaged in the church’s graveyard.
“Hundreds of people waiting for food have been trampling all over the cemetery grass every Wednesday and Saturday,” the person, who contacted the Chronicle using a fake name, Francis Abele, said in an email. “This action, not only disrespects the buried but also desecrates such a sacred place.”
The Rev. Wilfredo Benitez, the rector at the church, does not agree with the claim that the tombstones were harmed by people waiting for food, saying that those in line are separated from tombstones by a rope barrier.
Although people waiting for food normally stand in the cemetery, the rector said that they go on the sidewalk during times of inclement weather.
“We put up a temporary barrier every time we do the food distribution,” he said.
“We keep the people off the tombstones and, aesthetically, it’s an area that looks inviting and welcoming and respectful,” he said. “This cemetery is centuries old and the stones are very fragile at this point and they break very easily.”
In response to those comments, the alleged parishioner claimed "the rector is lying in an attempt to cover up the crime" and made an inflammatory statement about him.
Benitez did not immediately return a request for comment in response to the source's remarks. He later sent a letter to the editor decrying the claims and saying that no one named Francis Abele is a member of the church.
This article originally cited the alleged parishioner by the name Francis Abele, which he or she used in all communications with the newspaper as if it were his or her real name. All communications with the source were done over email. After the Rev. Wilfredo Benitez criticized the article in a letter to the newspaper, the person was contacted again, and he or she refused to say what his or her real name is, citing the need to protect him- or herself. Also, an inflammatory quote the person gave about the rector was removed from the article. We regret the error and inclusion of the quote.