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Religious relic found, returned to Calif. church

Parishioners at St. Anthony Church in Long Beach prayed fervently after their 780-year-old relic was stolen. When it was returned, they thanked God and the police for bringing their little piece of St. Anthony back home.

"St. Anthony is the patron saint of travelers and lost things but today he's also the honorary saint of the Long Beach Police Department," said the pastor, the Rev. Jose Magana.

Police recovered the relic of St. Anthony of Padua at the home of Maria Solis, 41, who was arrested on suspicion of commercial burglary, Long Beach Deputy Police Chief Robert Luna said.

Solis was booked late Thursday and released due to an unspecified medical condition, police said in a statement Friday. Detectives plan to present the case to the district attorney's office for charges next week, the statement said.

Parishioners applauded when a police officer placed the delicate gold and silver reliquary containing a tiny shard of bone on a table at the news conference in front of the church.

Magana credited both his flock's prayers and the hard work of investigators for the return of the cherished relic.

"He just wanted to come home because it belongs to everyone," Magana said, noting that the relic and its casing appeared to be undamaged.

Luna said detectives canvassed the neighborhood with a composite sketch of a person of interest who was seen at five Masses the day before the theft.

Investigators found video surveillance tape that captured a woman walking to St. Anthony Catholic Church on Monday, the day of the theft, and the day before, he said.

Detectives found the relic displayed in the living room of Solis' home, about a mile from the church, Luna said.

After a news conference on the steps of the church, Magana carried the delicate gold reliquary inside under the watchful eyes of a police officer. He led a prayer of gratitude for about three dozen people in English and Spanish.

Parishioner Roxana Navichoque, 22, said she couldn't fathom why someone would steal from a church.

"I kept praying every night that God would touch her heart and she'd bring it back on her own. It came back either way and I'm really glad," she said.

Luna said detectives were still interviewing and assessing Solis and do not yet have any motive for the theft.

Magana said parishioners had seen Solis once before maybe, but she was not part of the parish community.

The relic was stolen from inside a cabinet beside the altar before a morning Mass on Monday, the feast day of the church's namesake.

The object is rarely put on display, but Magana said he decided to bring it out this year because many of his parishioners have lost their homes, their jobs and their hope in the rough economy.

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