ST. LOUIS — Catholic officials say protesters calling for the removal of a statue of St. Louis’s namesake should consider all that the imperfect man did to help the poor and the sick.

The Archdiocese of St. Louis said in a statement Sunday that King Louis IX is “an example of an imperfect man who strived to live a life modeled after the life of Jesus Christ.”

“For St. Louisans, he is a model for how we should care for our fellow citizen, and a namesake with whom we should be proud to identify. The sword on his statue is not raised for warfare, but rather is held with the blade down—a symbol of peace,” the statement said.

The archdiocese said the saint and ruler of France during the 13th century opened hospitals and shared his daily meals with beggars.

“The reforms that St. Louis implemented in French government focused on impartial justice, protecting the rights of his subjects, steep penalties for royal officials abusing power, and a series of initiatives to help the poor,” the archdiocesan statement said.

“He personally paid to feed more than 100 poor Parisians every day. His care for the sick was equally moving; St. Louis frequently ministered to lepers. He also created a number of hospitals, including one for the blind and another for ex-prostitutes,” the statement continued.

The statement did not directly address criticism that Louis IX led a violent Crusade against Muslims in the Middle East. But the archdiocese said those seeking change should focus on policies that will dismantle racism and create a more equal society instead of seeking to “erase history.”

On Saturday, roughly 200 people gathered near the statue of the sword-wielding king with some calling for it to come down while others — many of them Catholic — prayed near its base.

The protests over King Louis IX’s statue comes amid calls across the country to remove other monuments, particularly those honoring Confederate leaders.

“Peace is what St. Louisans hoped for in the new twentieth century when they erected the statue of St.
Louis the King—and peace is what St. Louisans still strive toward in this century,” the archdiocese said.

“As Catholics, we believe that each person—no matter their race, religion, background or belief—is created in the image and likeness of God. As such, all should be treated with love, respect and dignity.”

Crux staff contributed to this report.