As the patron saint of lost causes and missing objects, St. Anthony of Padua has been consulted for the return of many items. But never his own ancient religious relic.
On Monday, which also happened to be the feast day of St. Anthony and the 780th anniversary of his death, a religious relic of the saint was stolen from beside the alter at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Long Beach, Calif., startling the parish and sparking a police search for a “person of interest.”
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The relic, which has only been described as “invaluable” and “deeply symbolic,” was on display for the special occasion only. It was the first time in nine years that the precious item was exhibited.
Reverend Jose Magana, who was preaching at mass on Monday, told the Associated Press that he brought out the relic because many of his parishioners were struggling in the rough economy. The church opened at 6 a.m., and when Magana referenced the relic during the 9 a.m. mass, he — and many churchgoers — noticed it was gone.
“It’s our history, so it’s irreplaceable,” Magana told the AP. “It belongs to the church, not just the church here in Long Beach, but the entire Catholic church.”
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The relic is an object that was significant to St. Anthony during his life and was presented to the parish by the Vatican when it opened in 1902. While the relic itself has not been described because of the ongoing investigation, it is enclosed in a silver and gold pedestal case that’s 16 inches tall and 10 inches wide.
Police are searching for a woman who was seen “acting suspiciously” at the church throughout the morning of the relic’s disappearance, but no arrests have been made.
Meanwhile, the parish continues to pray to the saint who the relic is dedicated to in hopes that it will be returned safely to the church.