A reliquary containing the blood of the late Pope John Paul II and a crucifix were snatched from a small church east of Rome over the weekend.
Vatican Radio decried the “sacrilegious theft” from tiny San Pietro della Ienca church near the Gran Sasso part of the Apennine mountains, where John Paul used to hike and ski.
Carabinieri paramilitary police Col. Andrea Ronchey in nearby L’Aquila told The Associated Press Monday that the relic was last seen on Thursday in the church.
On Monday, dozens of policemen swept the area along with sniffer dogs in search of the culprits.
The gold vial contained a piece of material stained with the pope’s blood, reportedly taken after a failed assassination attempt in St Peter’s Square in 1981.
The religious object — one of three relics to contain the pope’s blood — was donated to the church by Cardinal Stanislaw Dzuwisz, the pope’s former personal secretary, in 2011.
Italian authorities have raised the possibility that a satanic cult may be behind the theft, for ritual purposes, as the dates of the theft coincide with the Satanic New Year on February 1.
John Paul, who died in 2005, will be made a saint April 27 during a Vatican ceremony. Once declared a saint, the value of the reliquary is expected to rise significantly.