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John Paul II blood relic 'thrown away'

Trio 'can't remember', theft not to order

30 January, 18:28
John Paul II blood relic 'thrown away' (ANSA) - L'Aquila, January 30 - A cloth soaked with the blood of the late pope John Paul II was thrown away by three men who stole it from a central Italian church at the weekend, ANSA sources said Thursday. The three men in their late teens reportedly did not understand the value of what they took and cannot remember where they disposed of the cloth.

The thieves are believed to have panicked after hearing media reports about the importance of the object.

Police said that, unless the trio manage to recollect what they did, their hazy memory of recent days will prevent the recovery of the relic, one of only three blood relics of the Polish pope originating from a donation he made after an assassination attempt in St Peter's in 1981. Earlier in the day, police found the iron frame of the relic container, or reliquary, near a drug-addict treatment facility in the town of Collemaggio, not far from Abruzzo capital L'Aquila.

The three detained are addicts and two have a history of petty theft, police said.

The reliquary was taken along with a cross last weekend from the church of San Pietro della Ienca, located at the foot of the Gran Sasso mountain in the Abruzzo region. The church is located in an area where the charismatic pontiff used to hike, ski and meditate.

John Paul, who died in 2005 and is set to be made a saint at the end of April, enjoyed slipping out of the Vatican to the quiet and devout community in the Abruzzo region. Relics of the pope credited with helping defeat eastern European Communism are bound to increase in value after John Paul becomes a saint.

This is what prompted speculation that the theft was made to order, but police squashed this, saying they broke in on the off chance of finding something valuable they could fence to feed their habit.

"The relic was not stolen on commission for a particular buyer," a police spokesman said.