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A reliquary containing the blood of the late Pope John Paul II was stolen after thieves broke into a small mountain church east of Rome at the weekend, with fears that a Satanic group could be behind the theft.
A team of around 50 police officers with sniffer dogs were searching yesterday for any trace of the reliquary, which was stolen from the church of San Pietro della Ienca in the Abruzzo mountains on Saturday night.
A custodian at the church, Franca Corrieri, said she had discovered a broken window at the church in the Abruzzo region east of Rome early on Sunday morning and had called the police.
When they entered the small stone church they found the gold reliquary and a crucifix missing, she said.
Polish-born Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, is to be canonised in May, meaning the relic will become more valuable.
The late Pope loved the region’s Apennine mountains and would sometimes slip out of the Vatican secretly to hike or ski there and pray in the church.
It was a gift from his former private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who gave it to the local community in 2011 as a token of love John Paul II had for the area.
The ornate reliquary, which had been kept in a niche of the small church, contains a fragment of material, stained with blood, purportedly taken from the clothing worn by John Paul II after he was shot in an attempt on his life in 1981.
Giovanni Panunzio, the national coordinator of an anti-occult group called Osservatorio Antiplagio warned that “Satanic sects” could behind the theft of the reliquary.
“This period of the year is important in the Satanic calendar and culminates in the Satanic ‘new year’ on Feb 1. This sort of sacrilege often take place at this time of the year. We hope that the stolen items are recovered as quickly as possible,” he told The Telegraph.
Ms Corrieri said the incident felt more like a "kidnapping" than a theft. "In a sense, a person has been stolen," she said. Apart from the reliquary and a crucifix, nothing else was stolen from the remote church.
Above: John Paul II was beatified in 2011