Authorities considering possibility since this same region has seen theft of consecrated Hosts.
The priest who celebrated the Friday evening Mass last week at the Basilica of Castelnuovo d’Asti, in northern Italy, noticed something as he was readying to close up for the night: Behind the main altar, the reliquary with the remains of St. John Bosco had been opened.
The community of this birthplace of the saint — John Bosco was born here in 1815, going on to found the Salesians — was distressed, quickly forming a group to pray for the return of the relics.
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In this same area, there have already been cases of the Eucharist being stolen. Authorities are thus considering the possibility that a satanic group might be behind the disappearance of the relic, since relics are something of a macabre trophy for satanists.
The archbishop of Turin, Cesare Nosiglia, told the press that he is not planning any sort of ransom for the relic, and is hoping that the criminals will return the relic — which is part of the spiritual patrimony of this place, and visited by numerous pilgrims each year.
Authorities do consider that the theft might in fact be motivated by a plan to get ransom money. Fingerprints and the rather unskilled operation indicate that the theft might have been carried out by a common, regular criminal.
The area surrounding the basilica is under surveillance.
“We trust that Don Bosco will touch the heart of whomever has done such an evil thing and he will repent — just as the saint was able to transform the lives of the youth he worked with,” the rector of the basilica, Father Ezio Orsini, told the Italian ANSA news agency.
The bicentenary of John Bosco’s birth was celebrated just two years ago, in 2015.
Pope Francis, who is descended from Italians of that same region, has on various occasions noted his thanks for the Salesian spiritual family, which was instrumental in his own formation.
Other thefts of relics
In 2011, another relic of St. John Bosco was stolen from a church in Alassio, Genoa.
In 2014, a crystal reliquary containing blood of St. John Paul II was stolen. It was eventually returned.
In 1991, the relics of St. Anthony of Padua were stolen. This was carried out at the order of a mafia boss, Felice Maniero, who wanted the relic as a bartering tool to gain the release of one of his relatives.
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[This article is translated and adapted from Aleteia’s Spanish edition.]