The Catholic Church has appealed to thieves to return a reliquary containing the blood of the late Pope John Paul II that disappeared in what it called a "vile and sacrilegious theft".
The gold reliquary was stolen at the weekend from a small stone
church, San Pietro della Ienca, in the mountains east of Rome, where, in
his younger days, the pope would slip away secretly from the pressures
of the Vatican to hike and ski.
"I appeal to the those who carried
out this deplorable act," Archbishop Giuseppe Petrocchi of the city of
L'Aquila said in a letter to local Catholics on Monday night.
"Give it back," he said.
Catholic churches have reliquaries, usually small, ornate containers
that hold relics, in some cases body parts of revered church figures.
one stolen at the weekend contained a blood-soaked piece of cloth, most
likely from the cassock John Paul was wearing on May 13, 1981 when he
was shot in an assassination attempt, the office of Monsignor Slowomir
Oder, the official in charge of John Paul's sainthood cause, told
Oder's office could not specify how many such blood
relics of John Paul existed but said Italian media reports that there
were only three in the world were wrong.
Dozens of police with sniffer dogs were still scouring the remote, snow-blanketed area for clues on Tuesday.
Corrieri, a custodian of the church, told Reuters she had discovered
the break-in on Sunday morning when she saw that window bars had been
Police found only the gold reliquary and a crucifix
missing even though the thieves would have had time to take other
objects during the night-time raid in the isolated area.
This led them to believe the theft might have been commissioned or that the thieves may intend to seek a ransom.
John Paul is due to be made a saint of the Roman Catholic Church in May, meaning the relic will become more valuable.
pope, who died in 2005 after reigning for 27 years, loved the mountains
in the Abruzzo region because they reminded him of those in his native
In 2011, John Paul's former private secretary, Cardinal
Stanislaw Dziwisz, now archbishop of Krakow in Poland, gave the local
community the relic as a token of the love he had felt for the area.