A bloody swatch of John Paul II's clothing is missing after a theft at an Italian church
Police will attempt to track the thieves across fresh mountain snow
The late pontiff's secretary gave the swatch to the church after John Paul's 2005 death
Missing: One small, round, golden container. Contents: The blood of the late, soon-to-be-canonized Pope John Paul II. If found, please notify Italian police and the church of San Pietro della Ienca.
Officers from the Carabinieri, Italy’s military police, plan to comb the nearby mountains where John Paul used to vacation before his death in 2005, hoping to find tracks in the snow that will lead them to whoever broke into the church and stole the item over the weekend, Carabinieri Col. Savino Guarino said. But investigators are also searching for the relic – which holds a square bloodstained piece of cloth about 2 cm (3/4 inch) – all over Italy, he said.
The relic and a golden cross were the only things stolen from San Pietro, located near the city of L’Aquila in the Abruzzo region, church members said.
Pasquale Corriere, who helped restore the church, said the sanctuary was closed Friday and Saturday because of bad weather. Corriere suggested the thieves were looking specifically for the relic, since nothing else was touched – not even the boxes that hold money for charity.
John Paul’s former secretary, Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, gave the relic to the church in 2011 “to thank us for all that we did” for the visiting pontiff, said Corriere’s daughter Franca.
“I think it was stolen by someone very faithful to John Paul II,” she said. “Really, I can’t imagine who the thieves are. My only wish is that the relic is returned to us as soon as possible.”
Guarino wouldn’t comment on any possible motive for the theft. He said more than 50 carabinieri will be out searching Tuesday if the weather improves.
John Paul II led the Roman Catholic Church for more than 26 years. The church plans to recognize him as a saint in April, along with Pope John XXIII, who is revered for his role in the Second Vatican Council.
CNN’s Matt Smith contributed to this report.