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Prayers answered: Stolen religious relic found, returned to church

Prayers have been answered for the safe return of a beloved 780-year-old relic stolen earlier this week from a church.
Image: Father Jose Magana, Long Beach police officer Jeff Liberman, and chief Robert Luna look at a 780-year-old religious relic after it was recovered
Father Jose Magana, left, Long Beach police officer Jeff Liberman and Police Chief Robert Luna examine the 780-year-old religious relic following a news conference on Thursday.Mark J. Terrill / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Prayers have been answered for the safe return of a beloved 780-year-old relic stolen earlier this week from a church.

Police recovered the relic of St. Anthony of Padua on Thursday at the Long Beach home of Maria Solis, 41, who was arrested on suspicion of commercial burglary, Police Chief Robert Luna said Thursday evening.

Parishioners applauded when a police officer placed the delicate gold and silver reliquary containing a tiny shard of bone on a table at the news conference in front of the church.

Luna said detectives canvassed the neighborhood with a composite sketch of a person of interest who was seen at five Masses the day before the theft.

Investigators found video surveillance tape that captured her walking to St. Anthony Catholic Church on Monday, the day of the theft, and the day before, he said.

'It belongs to everyone'
Detectives said they found the relic displayed in her living room of her home, about a mile from the church, Luna said.

St. Anthony's pastor, the Rev. Jose Magana, said the relic appeared to be undamaged.

"St. Anthony is the patron saint of travelers and lost things but today he's also the honorary saint of the Long Beach Police Department," Magana said. "He just wanted to come home because it belongs to everyone."

Afterward, under the watchful eyes of a police officer, Magana carried the delicate gold reliquary inside where about three dozen people prayed in English and Spanish to thank God for returning the artifact.

Luna said detectives were still in the process of interviewing and assessing Solis, and do not yet have any motive for the theft.

Rough economy
Magana said parishioners had seen Solis once before maybe, but she was not part of the parish community.

The relic was stolen from inside a cabinet beside the altar at the Long Beach church before a morning Mass on Monday, the feast day of the church's namesake.

Magana said he decided to bring out the relic this year, on the 780th anniversary of the death of St. Anthony, because many of his parishioners have lost their homes, their jobs and their hope in the rough economy.

Parishioner Roxana Navichoque, 22, said she couldn't fathom why someone would steal from a church.

Some members of the church's youth group talked about canceling a planned outing to a local lake this weekend, and spending the day passing out fliers and checking garbage cans around the neighborhood, she said.

"I kept praying every night that God would touch her heart and she'd bring it back on her own. It came back either way and I'm really glad," she said.