Italian police have found a vial of the late Pope John Paul II's blood, revered as a relic in the Vatican. A trio of thieves had stolen it from a priest but didn't recognize or value the bounty, leaving it in a hedge.
Italian police recovered the vial of papal blood in a hedge near a railway station at Marina de Cerveteri to the northwest of Rome.
The thieves had stolen priest Augusto Baldini's backpack on a train and then apparently disembarked before he did.
The vial of blood, which the priest was taking from Rome to be put on display at a shrine in the town of Allumiere, 74 kilometers (46 miles) away, was inside the stolen rucksack.
The priest noticed the theft only later when he left the train, and remembered that three men had distracted him with questions before they disembarked at a previous station.
"I endured five hours of agony. The police were really very efficient," Baldini told the Italian Ansa news agency.
Relic intended for papal anniversary
"Blood is preserved in the vial from the Pope Wojtyla [a reference to John Paul II's real name, Karol Wojtyla] taken after the assassination attempt of May 13, 1981," Baldini said. "The police officers returned it to me and as of [Wednesday] the relic will be on display at Allumiere, marking the 25th anniversary of Jean-Paul's visit."
Police said the thieves had thrown away the small vial, which was attached to a book. They had not recovered the backpack. They said it was not clear whether the thieves were planning to hide the relic and pick it up later, or whether they were not aware and had simply thrown it away.
Pope John Paul II, who died after a long illness in April 2005, was beatified by the Catholic Church in May last year. Beatification is the third of four steps on the road to "sainthood" in Catholic dogma. It recognizes an individual's ascension to heaven and their ability to intercede on behalf of those who pray to them, should they choose to do so.
msh/ipj (AFP, dapd)