Italian police are investigating the theft of a reliquary filled with the blood of the late Pope John Paul II from a small church near Rome.

A custodian at San Pietro della Ienca, near the city of L'Aquila, said thieves broke a window early Sunday morning and took a gold reliquary and a crucifix from the stone church, Reuters reported.

The beloved former pope, who died in 2005, loved the mountains in the Abruzzo region east of Rome. He would sometimes escape from the Vatican in secret to ski or hike the mountains there and pray in the church.

Some of John Paul's blood was preserved after an assassination attempt that nearly killed him in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981.

John Paul's former private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, gave the local Abruzzo community some of the late pontiff's blood in 2011, as a token of the love he felt for the area. The blood was placed in a gold and glass circular case and kept in a niche of the church.

Franca Corrieri told Reuters the incident felt more like a "kidnapping" than a theft. "In a sense, a person has been stolen," the custodian told Reuters.

Nothing else was missing from the church.

Polish-born John Paul, who reigned for 27 years, is expected to be made a saint of the Roman Catholic Church in May, likely making the relic more valuable.