Whoever stole an "invaluable" religious relic from a Key West church on June 20 is in the prayers of a senior church official.
The "first-class relic," a sliver of a toe bone of Saint Faustyna Kowalska, disappeared from its display at the Basilica of Saint Mary Star of the Sea on Windsor Lane sometime between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. that day.
Longtime parishioner and current Saint Mary employee Sue Barroso was instrumental in procuring the relic in 1995 and it's been on display at the church since. She said whoever stole it would be forgiven "with no questions asked."
"We pray to Saint Faustyna every day that she'll return it to us and forgive whoever took it. That's what she would want us to do. Hopefully, we could obtain another relic [if it's not returned]. It's a very lengthy process," Barroso said.
Saint Mary Rev. Deacon Peter Batty said the church is known as a "chapel of perpetual adoration." That means at least one employee or volunteer is on site 24 hours a day.
But that didn't prevent the thief from stealing the relic, given to Barroso by Polish priest Father Seraphim Michalenko. He oversaw the cause to canonize Kowalska, a Polish-born nun who died in 1938 at age 33.
Declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church in 2000, she was known to have visions of and conversations with God that she documented in a diary.
"Saint Faustyna was someone that established an understanding of the nature of the Divine Mercy of God. There's a statute of her right outside the chapel," Batty said.
According to the Vatican website, Divine Mercy "undertakes the task of proclaiming and
entreating God's mercy for the world and strives for Christian perfection." Given that definition, Batty's take on the theft should come as no surprise.
"It's such a small item that it would be very difficult to find it. We just wish the person who stole it well and pray for them. We wish they would bring it back," he said.
Stored alongside two other relics in a gold reliquary, or display case, Batty said the relic "is not prayed to, but it is revered."
Batty added that whatever the motive for the theft, it couldn't have been for money.
"It has absolutely no monetary value whatsoever, but it has a great spiritual value," he said.
Barroso said she was intent on securing the relic from Michalenko, with whom she attended a 10-day seminar in Massachusetts. He initially resisted her request.
"I asked him and he told me no. I couldn't help it and I got very upset. The day our 10-day seminar ended, he called me in the back and he gave me the relic. We were given the authentic paperwork declaring it a first-class relic," she said.
"There is no dollar amount. It's invaluable. No dollar could ever buy that," she said.