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Saint of lost causes goes missing

A 780-year-old Catholic relic was stolen from a church near Los Angeles,just hours after it was put on display.

Police said the relic was taken from a cabinet inside St Anthony Church in Long Beach.

Police Lieutenant Paul Arcala said the relic was housed in a 16-inch tall case with angel-shaped handles made of gold and silver on either side.

The church only brings it out on special occasions and had put it on display for the feast of St Anthony, the patron saint of missing items and lost causes. The Rev Jose 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 hope in the rough economy.

He said the relic is invaluable and deeply symbolic to his parish.

"It's our history, so it's irreplaceable," he said. "It belongs to the church, not just the church here in Long Beach, but the entire Catholic church."

The last time the relic was on view was eight years ago, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the parish. In Catholicism, relics are usually part of a saint's body or clothes and revered as a physical connection to the saint.

While church members are upset that someone would steal a holy object, their faith is still strong, the Rev Magana said.

"They said 'Father, he's the patron saint of lost causes, so he'll come home.'"

Police are looking for a woman who was seen at all five Masses on Sunday and was unusually curious about the relic, Lt Arcala said. Witnesses said she got too close and had to be asked to step away. The woman was in her late 30s and was short and heavyset with wavy, shoulder-length black hair.

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