John Paul II blood reliquary stolen
Relic 'may have been stolen to order', Satanists also suspected27 January, 18:55
(ANSA) - L'Aquila, January 27 - A reliquary containing blood from late pope John Paul II has been stolen from a church in a central Italian mountain village where the charismatic Polish pontiff used to hike, ski and meditate.
More than 50 police using sniffer dogs combed the zone Monday, a day after the theft was discovered.
Police said the gold reliquary was taken along with a cross over the weekend from the church of San Pietro della Ienca, located at the foot of the Gran Sasso mountain in central Italy, in the province of L'Aquila.
John Paul, who died in 2005 and is set to be made a saint at the end of April, liked slipping out of the Vatican to the quiet and devout community under the hulking peak in the Abruzzo region, Italy's biggest mountain outside the Alps.
He reportedly covered the 132 kilometres (81 miles) on over 100 occasions, often in complete secrecy.
The popularity of John Paul, who reigned for 27 years and was credited with helping bring down Communism and spreading the Catholic Church's appeal with media-friendly trips across the globe, is sure to be boosted by his canonisation which will also mean all objects used or related to him, especially holy relics, will gain in value. The provincial commander of the paramilitary Carabinieri police, Savino Guarino, said he was afraid the thieves might already have "disposed of the object".
"They may have thrown it into the woods, which is why we're using the dogs," he said.
The head of a local cultural association working to bolster the standing of John Paul's shrine at San Pietro della Ienca, Pasquale Corriere, told reporters he was "dismayed" by the theft.
"There are only three relics of John Paul in the world so this would be a painful loss," he said.
He said the robbery bore all the hallmarks of a crime "committed to order".
Corriere's daughter Franca, the custodian, said the thieves sawed through bars on a window to break into the church early Sunday morning or late Saturday night. When police entered the tiny stone church, she said, they "immediately saw" that the reliquary - a cloth soaked in blood donated after the pope survived a near-fatal assassination attempt in St Peter's Square in 1981, in a gold and glass circular case - was missing, along with the crucifix.
Nothing else was taken, "not even the offering money, although the thieves would have had all the time they needed to ransack the church," she said.
John Paul's former private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, gave the local community some of John Paul's blood in 2011 as a token of his fondness for the area.
Corriere said the incident felt more like a kidnapping than a theft. "In a sense, a person has been stolen," she said.
Others have suggested a possible link to a Satanic cult.
A Catholic organisation that stands guard against demonic possession, the Osservatorio Antiplagio, noted that "the date of the theft coincides with the start of the reign of the demon Volac, who Devil worshippers try to raise from Hell from January 25 to 29, to prepare for Satan's birthday on February 1".
They also pointed out that Satanists, who admire the Nazis, like to desecrate Jewish and Christian sites on January 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The Abruzzo church is already a fairly big draw for tourists, most of them pilgrims who have been waiting for John Paul's sainthood to be declared ever since his death on April 2, 2005, when over some two million faithful flocked to his funeral, shouting "Santo Subito" ('Saint Straight Away').
John Paul will be proclaimed a saint on April 27, 2014, Pope Francis said in September.
The Argentine pontiff said that another of his predecessors, John XXIII, will be canonized on the same day.
The two late popes were probably the Catholic Church's most popular and groundbreaking in the 20th century, generating a much broader appeal that Francis is reviving with his humility, common touch, reform drive and focus on social justice.
The canonisation date marks the first Sunday after Easter and also the Feast of Divine Mercy, one of John Paul's favourite feasts because it marks revelations in 1931 by Jesus to a Polish nun, who the Polish pontiff canonised as Saint Faustina in 2000.
It will also be the 75th birthday of Krakow Archbishop Dziwisz, a long-time friend of the late pope's as well as his secretary.
Work on a shrine to John Paul in Krakow, where he was archbishop from 1964 until his election to the papacy in 1978, is speeding ahead and is expected to be ready in time.
Announcing the canonisation, Francis said of the Blessed John Paul II: "I think of him as 'the great missionary of the church,' because he was "a man who proclaimed the Gospel everywhere".