SAN FRANCISCO — A fragment from what is believed to be the True Cross of Christ, stolen from its home beneath a picture. It’s a story one would associate with medieval legends or a Dan Brown novel.
However, the theft is unfortunately a very immediate — and very difficult — reality for one California parish.
“The first thing we want people to know is that if anyone has it or knows anything about it – just to bring it back,” Dominican Father Michael Hurley, pastor of St. Dominic’s Church in San Francisco told CNA. “We just want it back.”
The relic stolen is a fragment of what is believed to be the True Cross of Christ, an important relic and item of devotion dating back over two millennia to the Crucifixion. Catholic tradition holds that St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, found the Cross during her visits to the Holy Land in the 4th Century. The fragment housed at St. Dominic’s has been verified by the Vatican as being a splinter from that Cross that St. Helena found.
Father Hurley told CNA the relic was located underneath a painting of the Pieta, which depicts Mary weeping over the body of a lifeless Christ. “For the people of St. Dominic’s, it’s a place of comfort and of devotional prayer,” Father Hurley said. The relic itself was a gift from a parishioner during a time of trouble, and holds special spiritual and emotional meaning for everyone in the community.
The relic was stolen from its home on August 18th. The church has no security recordings, and there were no witnesses to the theft.
The parish only learned that the relic was missing when someone who had come to pray at the church saw that the relic and reliquary were missing and asked if it was taken out for cleaning. “When we went to check it out, it was clear that the lock was broken and the relic was gone.”
Father Hurley explained that for Catholics, the physical nature of relics has a very special and immediate meaning. “For us as Catholics, we believe that God is not just some distant force up in the heavens but is a real, living presence in our lives.”
This intimate and physical reality of Christ gives special meaning to holy (physical) objects, he noted. “The Cross itself is not just a piece of wood but that symbol of Christ’s love for us, and, if you will, a sacramental that puts us in contact — as all the sacramentals do — with the efficacy of Christ and His redemption.”
As such, he continued, the sacramental nature of the Church can be “a comfort and point of connection…for us as human beings.”
“Our spiritual life certainly takes its origin and roots in human experience,” the pastor noted.
Father Hurley hoped the thief would realize exactly what this relic means to the parish and its people, and that whoever took it would bring it back. By returning what was taken, he encouraged, the person “would be contributing to the devotional life of the Church.”