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Raiders of the lost relic confess

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Less than a week after a relic of Pope John Paul II disappeared from a country chapel east of Rome, Italian police arrested two men for the theft, but the venerated piece of fabric stained with the late pope’s blood was still missing. The reliquary was stolen from the church of San Pietro della Ienca, 85 miles east of Rome, during the weekend of January 25. The church, where Blessed John Paul often prayed, is located 13 miles north of L’Aquila, in the mountainous Abruzzo region where the late pope frequently went on brief vacations.

The Italian media reported on Jan. 30 that the police had found an empty iron reliquary and a stolen cross, buried on the grounds of a drug treatment facility in the city of L’Aquila, about 75 miles east of Rome. Two men in their early 20s, while being questioned in connection with another crime, confessed they had stolen the objects and then revealed their location to police.

However, the suspects claimed to have discarded the relic itself — reportedly a piece of the clothing Blessed John Paul was wearing when he was shot May 13, 1981 — by throwing it into some bushes near the facility. Members of Italy’s forensics scientists police force were searching the grounds.

Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, who served as Blessed John Paul’s personal secretary during his pontificate, gave the relic to the chapel in recognition of the late pope’s many visits.