Rome, Italy, Jan 31, 2014 / 14:03 pm
An Italian bishop has voiced forgiveness for those responsible for stealing a relic of the blood of Blessed Pope John Paul II, soon after police announced the relic's recovery.
"I think John Paul has forgiven them. I think we have to do the same," Auxiliary Bishop Giovanni D'Ercole of L'Aquila said a Jan. 31 press conference.
The relic is a small square-shaped piece of cloth of John Paul II's cassock soaked in the blood from the 1981 assassination attempt on the Pope's life. There are only three like it.
The relic was discovered missing early on the morning of Jan. 26, when a church custodian found a broken window at the Church of San Pietro della Ienca in the mountainous region of Abruzzo. She called the police, who discovered that the reliquary was missing, along with a small, simple cross.
Three men were arrested in connection with the relic's theft. According to Reuters, the cloth was found in the garage of two of the men, and was pieced back together. The fabric is still missing a few cloth filaments and a gold thread, the bishop said.
Police had recovered the cross and reliquary the day before, but the relic was not found until later.
Police sources told ANSA news agency that the men "did not understand the relic's value" and initially did not remember where they allegedly threw it away.
Authorities had initially speculated that the crime could have been linked to a satanic cult. The rest of the church and offering box had been left untouched; only the relic was stolen.
Two of the three men arrested were described as drug addicts aged 23 and 24 and already known to the police, the British newspaper The Daily Mail reports.
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the Pope's personal secretary, had given the relic to the people of L'Aquila in 2011 in response to the devastating earthquake in the region.
The late Pope skied in the area and visited more than 100 times during his papacy. He also was a regular visitor to the small church.
John Paul II died in 2005. He will be canonized on April 27, alongside Pope John XXIII.