Lianne Laurence reports for LifeSiteNews – A tabernacle stolen from a Canadian Catholic cathedral early Tuesday morning was found Wednesday lying in a canal — but the consecrated Hosts that had been in it were nowhere to be seen.
A group of cathedral parishioners thereupon “took it upon themselves to conduct a search,” according to Margaret Jong, vice-chancellor of the diocese of St. Catharines in Ontario’s Niagara region.
They found the tabernacle in Centennial Park, “partially submerged in the Old Welland Canal,” Jong told LifeSiteNews in an email.
Parts of the ciborium, the sacred vessel that holds the consecrated Hosts, were not found, she said.
“There was no Blessed Sacrament recovered, and our hopeful presumption is that the consecrated hosts dissolved naturally in the water where the tabernacle was found,” Jong added.
According to the doctrines of the Catholic faith, the consecrated Hosts, also referred to as the Blessed Sacrament, are the literal Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.
During a radio interview Tuesday, Bishop Gerald Bergie pleaded with the thieves — believed to be a man and a woman — not to harm the consecrated Hosts, but to return them intact, along with the tabernacle.
“The tabernacle can be replaced. It’s the contents … that is what is so precious to us. That’s what’s irreplaceable,” Bergie told NewsTalk 610 CKTB.
He added there would be “no questions asked” if the thieves returned the Blessed Sacrament unharmed.
Cathedral rector Fr. Donald Lizzotti told LifeSiteNews he was “shocked” when the tabernacle was stolen and relieved that it has been found, even though it has been “badly damaged.”
“The door was taken off it and all the inside stuff was ripped out of it,” and only the lid of the ciborium was found, he said.
One of the doors has been returned, Jong said.
“After Bishop Bergie celebrated Mass at the Cathedral this afternoon, a parishioner came to the rectory door with one of the broken-off tabernacle doors,” she told LifeSiteNews.
“He had been greeted by a man on the street who asked if he was a parishioner, then gave him the door, saying it had been handed to him by someone else in Centennial Park,” Jong said.
“Our hope is that the second door may yet be recovered.”
Fr. Lizzotti told CNA he believed that the thieves cased the cathedral beforehand, and he described to LifeSiteNews the lengths to which the pair went to steal the sacred container.
“The tabernacle itself was mounted to wooden platform pieces that were screwed to the altar top itself,” he said.
Moreover, the tabernacle had a covering of steel “which looked like another tabernacle with brass doors” over it. The thieves removed this before they pried the tabernacle, which Lizzotti said is made of lead, from its platform.
“It weighed lots. It took two people to get off the altar,” Lizzotti said.
The video cameras showed the pair taking the tabernacle out of the cathedral and putting it in a shopping cart, he said.
Lizzotti told CNA that police couldn’t find fingerprints, and they believe that the thieves wiped the scene clean.
The trail was next picked up when the cathedral received a phone call Wednesday that the tabernacle had been found, he said.
Meanwhile, the 176-year-old church’s two “most vulnerable doors,” including the one through which the thieves had gained entry, have been “barricaded” with crossbars, he said.
“We’re putting in a surveillance system, and alarm system,” added Lizzotti.
Bishop Bergie said Tuesday that perhaps the thieves thought the bronze doors were made of gold — or they may have had a more malicious intent.
“Who knows what goes through the minds of these people?” he said.
He said the surveillance camera footage, taken in the dark of night, is “kind of grainy” and that it may be hard to get a clear picture of the suspects, CNA reported.
A number of people have been hanging around the cathedral in recent months, the bishop added.
“Even yesterday, the man that’s our caretaker said he noticed two fellas that were staying around all day, outside sleeping and eating,” he said.
“I don’t know if they’re involved, it’s hard to tell.”
LifeSiteNews contacted the Niagara Regional Police, which has an office right across from the cathedral, for an update on the investigation. However, the officer in charge did not respond by deadline. Moreover, at press time, police had posted no information about the incident on their website.
St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral also suffered a number of instances of theft and vandalism during its 2019 renovations, including thieves carrying off bronze and copper lamp posts outside the church last September, CNA reported.
Dr. Chrisian Elia, executive director of the Catholic Civil Rights League denounced the theft and desecration of the tabernacle and the terrible act of desecration of the Blessed Sacrament.
“It is deplorable for our churches and places of worship to be the subject of the current wave of violent attacks,” he told LifeSiteNews.
“It points to a mounting disrespect in our society for religious spaces, and by implication, for the people who may worship inside.”
As well as the theft of the tabernacle in St. Catharines, other episodes of vandalism at Catholic churches in Canada since May 2020 include “damages to eight statues at Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Sudbury, vandalism to statues at St. Patrick’s Parish in Markham, Sacred Heart Church in Calgary, the Basilica of Our Lady in Guelph, Our Lady of Lebanon in Toronto,” Elia recounted.
“The frequency of such attacks is troubling, and continued vigilance is needed,” he said.
Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government “has pledged $4 million per year in matching grant money for extra security for places of worship, schools and community centres,” Elia noted.
Anti-Catholic violence is also on the rise in the United States. In June, vandals pulled down and desecrated statues of Catholic missionary St. Junípero Serra in San Francisco and Los Angeles.