A thief posing as a pilgrimage stole fragments of brain matter of Saint John Bosco, one of Italy’s most revered heroes of the Catholic faith. Police have set up checkpoints in northern Italy, following the theft at a church in Castelnuovo, near Turin. On Friday, a thief entered the church that bears the name of the revered saint and fled with a glass reliquary that contained relics of the saint.
Known affectionately as Don Bosco, the saint was beloved for his efforts on behalf of the poor in 19th century Turin. Among those he helped were child criminals, orphans and marginalized young people. His dedication to their welfare earned him perennial renown. Pilgrims frequent the church that bears his name in Castelnuovo and pray before the relic that was kept behind the altar. On Sunday, there were devoted people praying for the safe return of the holy relics.
“I invite whoever took it to give it back immediately,” said Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin, “without any conditions so we can close this painful page and continue to honor the memory of Don Bosco worthily in his birthplace.” said Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia of Turin. Nosiglia said the news was something “you never wanted to hear.” He added in his statement, “It makes you think of the profound moral misery of someone who would steal a ‘sign’ that’s been left and conserved for the devotion and the faith of all.”
Born in Castelnuovo in 1815, Bosco founded the Salesian religious order. He died in 1888 and was canonized in 1934. The Salesian order administers schools and vocational training in many countries around the world.
There are concerns that the thief may seek ransom for the safe return of the relic. However, there has been speculation in the media that it may be used for blasphemous satanic rituals.
There are many churches in Europe that display saints’ bones and other remains for veneration by believers. They have also been targeted by thieves. For example, a vial of blood from Pope John Paul II was stolen in 2014.
Speaking for the Salesian order, Rev. Moreno Filipetto told Vatican Radio: “You can take away a relic of Don Bosco, but you can’t take away Don Bosco from the church or the world.” Approximately 600,000 pilgrims come every year to venerate Bosco.