Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ancient Relic Feared Stolen

LONG BEACH, Calif. — When missing something, devout Catholics often turn to St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of lost objects. Now, parishioners here are turning to him to pray for the return of his own relic.

A 780-year-old relic of the saint disappeared on Monday morning, less than 48 hours after the Rev. Jose Magaña displayed it at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church as a way to reinspire parishioners.

“Many people here have lost a lot in this economy, and I thought, why not have them pray to St. Anthony?” Father Magaña said.

So when he rose to deliver his sermon on Sunday, he told his parishioners that St. Anthony could do more than help them find their lost car keys and wallet. “He can restore your faith in God, your trust in the system, in yourself,” he said to them.

When he finished, hundreds of worshipers lined up to pray before the relic, which was housed in an ornate gold reliquary, about 16 inches high, with angel-shaped handles. Father Magaña reminded them that they could not touch it, and a few ushers stood guard at the glass case that held the reliquary.

The police have told Father Magaña not to say exactly what the relic is; typically relics are body parts or clothes of a saint.

Merely seeing the relic is special — it has not been on view since the 100th anniversary of the parish in 2002. Father Magaña said there was no record of when it was displayed before then. The parish received the relic from the Vatican shortly after the parish was created, he said.

The police said they were searching for a woman who had been at each of the five Masses on Sunday and was unusually aggressive in trying to see or touch the object.

Father Magaña said he last saw the relic just after 7 a.m. Monday, roughly an hour after the church opened. A few worshipers had begun coming in and out, as they often do on weekday mornings.

At 9 a.m., Father Magaña was saying Mass on the anniversary of the saint’s death and began invoking St. Anthony’s name when he glanced over and noticed that the glass case was empty. The congregation gasped. Father Magaña briefly considered stopping the Mass, but continued, calling the police after the service.

News of the missing relic has spread among the congregation, Father Magaña said, with many parishioners in tears as they called him. He also cried yesterday, he said, blaming himself.

“There was a real sense of despair and I thought, ‘I didn’t take care of this,’ ” he said. “But I got up this morning and went back to the basics — God will provide. I cannot be angry.”

Then, he added: “I think this is divine providence asking us, ‘Where is your faith?’ Is it on the relic or is on God alone?”


Anastasia Theodoridis said...

St. Anthony would actually betray the truth, wouldn't he, if he helped anybody regain his faith in 'the system'.

Bob Glassmeyer said...

Ah, yes, the "system." I wonder what the priest means? Some ideas come to mind. Hmmm.

And of course, the ever popular "faith in yourself" comes up, again. It's all about us.

Maybe that's the problem. Maybe that's the "system."