Prayers for the safe return of a 780-year-old relic stolen from a church near Los Angeles have been answered.
Police recovered the relic of St Anthony of Padua at the Long Beach home of Maria Solis, 41, who was arrested on suspicion of commercial burglary, Police Chief Robert Luna said.
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.
Mr Luna said detectives canvassed the neighbourhood with a composite sketch of a person of interest who was seen at five Masses the day before the theft.
Investigators found CCTV footage which showed her walking to St Anthony’s Catholic church on Monday, the day of the theft, and the day before, he said.
Detectives said they found the relic displayed in her living room of her home, about a mile from the church, yesterday.
St Anthony’s pastor, the Rev Jose Magana, said the relic appeared to be undamaged.
“St Anthony is the patron saint of travellers and lost things but today he’s also the honorary saint of the Long Beach Police Department,” Mr Magana said. “He just wanted to come home because it belongs to everyone.”
Afterwards, under the watchful eyes of a police officer, Mr Magana carried the delicate gold reliquary inside where about three dozen people prayed in English and Spanish to thank God for returning the artefact.
Mr Luna said detectives were still in the process of interviewing and assessing Solis, and do not yet have any motive for the theft.
Mr 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.
Mr 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 could not fathom why someone would steal from a church.
Some members of the church’s youth group talked about cancelling a planned outing to a local lake this weekend, and spending the day passing out fliers and checking dustbins around the neighbourhood, 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.