“A sacrilegious theft” and a “despicable act” is the reaction in Italy to the stealing over the weekend of a vial of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s blood from a small church in the Abruzzo mountains east of Rome.
The late Pontiff used to go skiing in the area known as Gran Sasso, often secretly, and prayed at the church of San Pietro della Ienca that housed the relic.
Local police have launched a major investigation into the theft, ordering 50 carabinieri onto the case and employing sniffer dogs to track the thieves. A prosecutor has already opened a file, Italian media reports.
"It was a commissioned robbery, that I am sure,” said Pasquale Corriere, a former city councilor in nearby L'Aquila and now president of the San Pietro alla Ienca cultural association – a group that promotes various projects around the relics of John Paul who will be canonized April 27th.
After sawing through an iron bar, the thieves didn’t take anything else but the vial, housed in a gold reliquary, and a crucifix. The break-in was discovered on Sunday morning by the parish priest, Fr. Jose Obama. It’s thought the objects were taken two nights ago.
Corriere says he had called for cameras and alarm systems to be installed to protect the relic and laments that nothing had been done. “The hope is that the perpetrators will repent and return their ill-gotten gains, or will soon be identified and arrested,” he told local newspaper, PrimaDaNoi.
Locals say John Paul II visited the small mountain shrine 112 times both in an official capacity and in secret. The relics were given to the shrine in 2011 by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz in memory of his many visits.
Archbishop Giuseppe Petrocchi of L’Aquila has expressed incredulity and dismay at what has happened. In a statement, he appealed to the perpetrators of this “despicable act to be open to the light of the Gospel” and return the “relic of our Protector who will soon be raised to the altars."
He condemned this “cowardly and sacrilegious theft”, saying it “deeply offends the religious and civil conscience of our people.” He also said hope is growing in him that the “precious relic” will soon be recovered and returned “to the devotion of our people and for all pilgrims,” and he called for “fervent prayer of reparation and invocation.”
Some are not ruling out that sinister forces might be behind the theft. This is possible given that satanism and black magic have become an increasingly worrying trend in Italy. The day it was stolen apparently coincides with the beginning of a period of preparation for satanism’s new year which begins Feb. 1. “At this time of year, blood and the cross are emblematic objects of the profane,” said Giovanni Panunzio, a teacher of religion and national coordinator of an anti-occult group called Osservatorio Antiplagio.
He said there is a “flourishing market” within satanic cults for religious statues. Sacred symbols that are unique but without any particular artistic value, such as the relic stolen at the weekend, can also fetch “tens of thousands of euro,” he added.
UPDATE - 1/31/14