By Karen Zautyk
The sacred relic of the Holy Cross stolen last month from the church that bears its name has been recovered and returned to its Harrison home, and police believe they have a line on the thief.
“It is undamaged, and we’re happy about that,” said the Rev. Joseph Girone, pastor.
The wooden relic, believed to be from the actual cross on which Jesus was crucified, disappeared from the rectory the evening of Sept. 10 and was found Sunday, Sept. 21, by two Port Authority police officers patrolling PA property in Harrison, police reported last week.
Harrison Det. Sgt. David Doyle told The Observer on Friday that the PAPD cops had been walking along the tracks in the area behind the Bank of America off Frank E. Rodgers Blvd.-South when they spotted a trash bag. Opening it, they found the cross-shaped brass reliquary containing the sacred artifact. Also in the bag were three wax candles, a first-aid kit and a set of keys.
Doyle said the officers brought their find to Harrison PD headquarters, where it was identified as belonging to Holy Cross Church.
On Sept. 12, other items — two prayer books and a banner honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe — that had been stolen along with the relic were found by Port Authority police on the PATH tracks in Jersey City. These have also been returned to the church.
“We are developing a suspect and hope to have a warrant drawn up by the middle of the week,” Doyle said.
The culprit is thought to be the same person the Rev. Francisco Rodriguez encountered in the rectory the night the relic went missing.
After a church volunteer reported seeing a stranger in the sacristy at about 7:15 p.m., the priest went to investigate and found a man rifling through cabinets in the kitchen.
Asked what he was doing, he said, “I’m hungry.”
The intruder, who is thought to have entered the rectory through a side window, was escorted out the kitchen door. Rodriguez then went to the sacristy and discovered the relic was gone.
The reliquary is normally kept in a safe, but it had been brought out to be polished in anticipation of the Feast of the Holy Cross on Sept. 14, when the relic it contains would be used to bless the parish faithful.
Before it was found, Rodriguez said, the Harrison police, armed with photos of the reliquary, “were hitting all the pawnshops.”
Girone said that when it was returned, he realized that a few small pieces the relic had fallen to the bottom of the “glass eye” through which it is viewed. It has been sent to an artist for restoration. “It should be back in our hands shortly,” the pastor said.
“We will reschedule the blessing” Girone noted. He said the Pastoral Council would be meeting this week to discuss the date.