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Stolen Long Beach church relic found, suspect in custody

June 9, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Long Beach congregation's prayers have been answered Thursday.

A nearly 800-year-old relic stolen from St. Anthony Catholic Church has been recovered. And the woman who allegedly stole it has been arrested. St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost or missing things.

"We believe somehow our prayers were answered," said Father Jose Magana.

Divine intervention combined with good police work helped to recover the religious relic stolen on Monday- the anniversary of St. Anthony's death.

"He definitely is somebody most of us go to when we lose something or perhaps when we know that we need help finding something," said Magana. "And I think he just wanted to come home."

For many parishioners, the miraculous return of the relic is reason to keep the faith.

"We just prayed that we would have a return," said parishioner Jorge Ramos. "We didn't expect it would be this soon."

The relic of St. Anthony, a bone from his body and the 16-inch solid gold case that houses it, was taken from a church cabinet. It's only brought out during special occasions, and made its last public appearance 9 years ago on the 100th anniversary of the church.

"Officers were informed of a person acting suspiciously in the church the day prior to the theft" said Deputy Chief Robert Luna. "They also learned this person had attended five masses inside the church over the course of the weekend."

With the help of witnesses, police came up with a composite sketch of a woman. But it was surveillance video from a nearby business that that person of interest was spotted on Sunday and Monday walking in the direction of the church.

"Detectives located 41-year-old Maria Solis, a resident of Long Beach, in the 1200 block of East 10th Street, which is approximately a mile from here," said Luna.

Authorities said they found the valuable relic displayed in her living room.

"I'm still in shock but there's so much joy," said Magana. "Something that belongs to so many people, it's back."

Solis is in custody facing charges of commercial burglary. Magana says Solis was seen in the church only once before the weekend the relic went missing. He says that she is not a member of the church.

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