President Donald Trump took time Thursday to recognize the pastor of one of three black churches in Louisiana burned last year by an arsonist.
Trump, speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, saluted the Rev. Gerald Toussaint, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, a 140-year-old house of worship in St. Landry Parish.
“Last year, Mount Pleasant was one of three African American churches in Louisiana that [were] destroyed in a fire set by a wicked, hate-filled arsonist,” Trump said at the 68th annual event, held at the Washington Hilton hotel.
The arsons occurred in late March and early April, shortly before Holy Week, which leads up to Easter. The son of a local deputy sheriff was charged with arson and hate crimes.
Vice President Mike Pence visited the churches last May.
Toussaint, an Army veteran and truck driver, leads the same church that his father led, Trump said at the prayer breakfast.
“In the wake of such shocking evil, America witnessed the unshakable unity, devotion, and spirit of Reverend Toussaint and his entire highly spirited, beautiful congregation,” the president said.
“Families quickly came together in prayer,” he said. “Soon, people from all across Louisiana came to help any way they could. Americans in all 50 states and 20 different countries heard about it, and they donated more than $2 million to help rebuild Mount Pleasant—and the other two churches.”
Trump then referred to inspiring words from the pastor on Easter Sunday, just days after the arson attack. Toussaint called Easter “a fitting metaphor.”
“It was dark the day that Jesus was crucified. It was dark at night when they burned our church,” Toussaint said, according to Trump. “What has happened since is like a resurrection.”
Trump told the prayer breakfast: “Old things are gone, but it’s going to be a brand new start, and it’s going to be better than ever. Better than ever. Fantastic.”
The president continued:
Today, just 10 months later, the ground is cleared. Careful plans have been made, and they’re beautiful plans. And construction is about to begin on the new and very, very magnificent Mount Pleasant Church. Congratulations.
You know, the reverend says that we’re rebuilding because that’s what Jesus does. He rebuilds, he lives, and he breathes. It’s what he does. He wants it to be rebuilt.
It was torn apart, but it’s being rebuilt again. And I’ll bet you it will indeed be bigger, better, and nicer than before.
“It’s going to have your mark on it,” Trump told Toussaint, who was in the audience. “And your father is looking down on you right now, and he’s very, very proud of the job that you’ve done.”