Rome, Italy, Jan 28, 2014 / 14:25 pm
A reliquary containing drops of the blood of Blessed Pope John Paul II has been stolen from a church in central Italy.
According to reports, thieves stole the relic and a small simple cross from the Church of San Pietro della Ienca in the mountainous region of Abruzzo.
Pasquale Corrieri, who heads the cultural center that cares for the church, said he believed the theft was "commissioned," ABC News reports.
"Whoever broke in came for the relic, that is clear, all the rest was left untouched including the offering box," he said.
The relic is a piece of cloth soaked in the blood from the 1981 assassination attempt on the Pope's life. There are only three like it.
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Pope's personal secretary, gave the relic to the people of L'Aquila in 2011 after a devastating earthquake.
The late Pope skied in the area and visited more than 100 times during his papacy. He also was a regular visitor to the church.
Corrieri's daughter, Franca, who serves as a church custodian, discovered a broken window at the church early in the morning on Sunday, Jan. 26. She called police, who discovered the reliquary was missing.
She said the theft felt more like a kidnapping, the British newspaper The Guardian reports.
"In a sense, a person has been stolen," she said.
Nothing else was taken from the church.
Police have speculated that the theft could be linked to a satanic cult, NBC News says. Authorities are now using trained sniffer dogs to search the nearby area.
John Paul II will be canonized on April 27, alongside Pope John XXIII.