So let’s talk about the theft of that relic containing the blood of the Blessed Pope John Paul II.
For starters, I admit that this whole subject is a little strange for people who are not members of the ancient Christian churches of the East and the West.
Also, there appears to be some confusion about what, precisely, was stolen. Some reports say that robbers stole a vial of the pope’s blood, while others — BBC for example — report that the object stolen was a “piece of gauze once soaked in the blood of the late pope.”
Either way, journalists trying to cover this story face the challenge of answering one crucial question: Why would someone want a vial of the blood of someone such as this beloved pope, who will be proclaimed a Catholic saint in April?
This Religion News Service report contains several logical answers to that question. For example:
The thief or thieves made off with a large crucifix and a gold reliquary containing the vial of the blood of John Paul, who will be proclaimed a saint in April.
Once John Paul is elevated to sainthood, artifacts from his life will increase in value.
It was not immediately clear whether the intentions are to ransom the vial, sell it, or keep it for religious purposes.
Yes, there is the chance that the thieves could hold this relic for ransom. Several news reports have, thus, noted that this crime feels more like a kidnapping than an ordinary robbery.
Of course, using that same logic, the relic could also be sold as a treasure and the market price would rise with the upcoming rites to declare the Blessed John Paul II a saint.
But that only begs the ultimate question, which is suggested in the RNS report’s statement that someone may want to “keep it for religious purposes.”
So what, precisely, does “religious purposes” mean? Is the suggestion here that the goal is to sell this to a traditional Catholic, the kind of person who believes that such relics are signs of God’s power in the material world, a power that is somehow displayed in the bodies and lives of the saints? Really?
Let me make a comparison. Years ago, I had a chance to interview the Rev. Billy Graham about the process he goes through when preparing to preach. I asked him if he had a special Bible that he used in the pulpit. He laughed and said, no, he kept a stack of new Bibles for that purpose. Why? He said people often stole his Bible when he went out in public.
Stop and think about this for a minute: If you stole Billy Graham’s Bible, to whom would you show it off? Who would be impressed, as opposed to appalled? Does a devout person steal that Bible?
The bottom line: Do you sell a stolen vial of a John Paul II blood to the kind of doctrinally conservative Catholic who would want to venerate it?
Thus, some news outlets are turning that “religious purposes” answer on its head.