By Ron Leir
A sacred relic has been purloined from Holy Cross Church in Harrison, according to police and church officials. The religious artifact is believed by the church faithful to be a piece of the original Cross of Christ from Jerusalem and has been in the church’s keeping at least since its founding in Harrison in 1886, said the Rev. Joseph Girone, pastor of Holy Cross.
“We were told by [former pastor] Monsignor John Gilchrist that the relic was brought here when the church was built as a gift from Rome,” explained the Rev. Francisco Gonzalez, parochial vicar of Holy Cross and youth minister.
A Harrison PD report issued last Monday, Sept. 15, gave this account of its disappearance: On the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 11, police were called to the church on a report of a burglary. Upon arrival, officers were told that the night before, at about 7:15 p.m., a church volunteer found a stranger in the sacristy carrying one of the church’s donation collection bags.
When the volunteer asked the man what was inside the bag, he replied: “Trash.” At that point, the volunteer told the man she was going to get a priest, Father Rodriguez, and left the sacristy.
After being alerted to the situation, Father Rodriguez confronted the intruder in the rectory kitchen where the man was searching through the cabinets. When asked what he was doing, the man replied: “I’m hungry.” The priest asked the man to leave and escorted him to the rear kitchen door.
Going to the sacristy, where the man was first seen, Father Rodriguez discovered that the relic – which, according to Father Girone, had been left in its receptacle on a table to be polished in preparation for Sunday’s Feast of the Holy Cross – was missing.
Girone said the artifact is normally kept in a rectory safe but had been removed for its once-a-year cleaning. The reliquary is in the shape of a cross about a foot long encased in a brass canister with the tiny relic itself contained in a glass “eye” and is used on special occasions, such as when priests offer a blessing for the sick.
What police described as “an unknown amount of rare gems” were said to be affixed to a portion of the artifact. Father Girone produced a framed certificate of authenticity for it written in Latin and signed by James J. O’Gorman, possibly a bishop of the period, and dated April 21, 1907.
This past Sunday, Sept. 14, the church had another surprise visit – this one from members of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Police Department – who were returning two liturgical identified as being from Holy Cross which they said were found near railroad tracks in Jersey City along with a canopy known as the “banner of Our Lady of Guadalupe,” which the church displays during the annual Feast Day on Dec. 12.
Girone said the intruder is believed to have removed the missals or books of prayer from a shelf in one of the rooms of the rectory. He said these were “old translations” of prayers that have since been replaced by the church.
“When the Port Authority police brought them to us, they were waterlogged,” he added.
Girone said the intruder apparently entered the rectory by climbing through a window on the side of the building.
Police described the suspect as African-American, between 50 and 60, about 5-feet-10, with short black and gray hair, a black and gray beard, wearing a black shirt and denim shorts.
In other recent criminal activities logged by Harrison PD, police listed these incidents:
Two bicycle thefts were reported.
In the first incident, reported at 2 p.m., the owner of a green Huffy valued at $30 told police he parked his bike in front of 506 Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. N. at 12:20 p.m. and when he returned at 1 p.m., the bike was gone.
The second theft, reported at 7:46 p.m., involved the disappearance of a gray Mongoose with orange tire rims, valued at $350, which, according to its owner, had been secured at the bike rack near the Harrison PATH station at 8:30 a.m., but which, upon the owner’s return at 7 p.m., was missing.
Hilario Gonzalez, no age or address listed, was pulled over in front of 36 Harrison Ave., at 2 p.m., after police said they observed his vehicle cross the painted median as it approached the intersection of Harrison Ave. and First St. In questioning the driver, police said they detected a strong odor of alcohol on his breath. Gonzalez was ticketed for DWI, reckless driving, being an unlicensed driver and maintenance of lamps.