Vial of Pope John Paul II’s blood stolen from Italian church

Video: A relic bearing the former pontiff’s blood was stolen on Monday amidst preparations for his canonization ceremony.

ROME — A vial containing the blood of the late Pope John Paul II was stolen from a village church in a mountainous area east of Rome, sparking a regionwide manhunt that includes more than 50 police and a team of dogs specialized in tracking.

It is not clear when the break-in at the small Church of San Pietro della Lenca in the region of Abruzzo took place, but it was discovered by a church custodian on Sunday (Jan. 26). The thief or thieves made off with a large crucifix and a gold reliquary containing the vial of the blood of John Paul, who will be proclaimed a saint in April.

Ancient Roman costumed groups of people parade in the ancient areas of Colosseum , Circus Maximus and the Roman Forum to celebrate the festivities of Christmas of Rome, in Rome, Monday, April 21, 2014. Legend says that Rome was founded by Romulus in 753 BC in an area surrounded by seven hills. Every year the city celebrates the Birth of Rome with parades and fighting in costume, re-enacting the deeds of the great ancient Roman Empire. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

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Once John Paul is elevated to sainthood, artifacts from his life will increase in value.

It was not immediately clear whether the intentions are to ransom the vial, sell it, or keep it for religious purposes.

The former pontiff, who died in 2005, had a deep fondness for the Abruzzo region. Early in his papacy, he was known to sneak away from the Vatican to hike or ski in the mountains there, and he stopped in the tiny church multiple times to pray.

In 2011, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul’s former secretary who is now the archbishop of Krakow in Poland, gave the community near the church the vial of blood as a gesture to commemorate the former pope’s connection with the area. The blood was first set aside in 1981, after an attempt on John Paul’s life in St. Peter’s Square.

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