A saint’s brain is stolen and Catholics pray for its return

Police set up roadblocks in northern Italy after a thief posing as a pilgrim stole tiny fragments of the brain of John Bosco, one of the country’s most revered saints.

The thief entered the church, named after the 19th century saint in Castelnuovo, near Turin, last Friday (June 2), and left with a glass case containing the relic of the saint, who is also known as Don Bosco.

Advertisement

Devotees often visit the church to pray before the relic kept behind the altar. On Sunday, pilgrims gathered at the Don Bosco Basilica to pray for its return.

“I invite whoever took it to give it back immediately, 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.

St. John Bosco is venerated for having dedicated his life to helping poor, deprived children. Born in Castelnuovo in 1815, he founded the Salesian religious order. He died in 1888 and was canonized in 1934.

Nosiglia said in a statement the news was something “you never wanted to hear.”

“You can take away a relic of Don Bosco, but you can’t take away Don Bosco from the church or the world.”

“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,” he said.

Police worry the thief may seek a ransom for the return of the saint’s brain and there has also been speculation in the Italian media that it may be used for a satanic rite in which Christian symbols are defiled.

Body parts belonging to saints are often displayed and revered in Catholic churches in Europe. They have also been targeted by thieves. In 2014, a vial of blood from Pope John Paul II was stolen.

The Rev. Moreno Filipetto, a spokesman for the Salesian order in northern Italy, 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.”

Police are continuing their investigation and the public can no longer access the area inside the church where the relic was previously displayed.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

The appointments are part of an ongoing effort to give a greater role to women in the work of the Roman Curia offices, the central administration of the Catholic church.
Gerard O’ConnellApril 21, 2018
Ivette Escobar, a student at Central American University in San Salvador, helps finish a rug in honor of the victims in the 1989 murder of six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter on the UCA campus, part of the 25th anniversary commemoration of the Jesuit martyrs in 2014. (CNS photo/Edgardo Ayala) 
A human rights attorney in the United States believes that the upcoming canonization of Blessed Oscar Romero in October has been a factor in a decision to revisit the 1989 Jesuit massacre at the University of Central America.
Kevin ClarkeApril 20, 2018
Journalists photograph the lethal injection facility at San Quentin State Prison in California in 2010. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
In California, Catholic opponents of the death penalty are trying to protect the largest population of inmates awaiting execution in the Western Hemisphere.
Jim McDermottApril 20, 2018
Photo: the Hank Center at Loyola University Chicago
Bishop McElroy said that Catholics must embrace “the virtues of solidarity, compassion, integrity, hope and peace-building.”