By Dan Whitcomb
LONG BEACH, Calif (Reuters) - One day after a 780-year-old religious relic was stolen from a Los Angeles-area Catholic church, police said they were seeking a "person of interest" in the case.
The relic of St. Anthony of Padua vanished, along with its silver and gold-plated casing, on Monday from its cabinet near the altar at St. Anthony Catholic Church in the Los Angeles suburb of Long Beach.
St. Anthony is the patron saint of the poor and lost items.
The relic, which police and church officials have declined to describe, had been on display for the first time in nine years to mark St. Anthony's death 780 years ago.
"It's only brought out on special occasions and June 13 is feast day of St Anthony and the 780th anniversary of his death," Carolina Guevara, a spokeswoman for Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
"The pastor also felt that during these difficult times he wanted to give the parishioners the opportunity to venerate this holy relic," Guevara said.
The relic was last seen at about 7:15 a.m. on Monday morning, when the pastor was preparing for Mass. Church employees noticed it missing as the service began.
Guevara said she could not place a monetary value on the relic or it's gothic-style casing, which stands about 16 inches tall with an angel on each side.
"It's invaluable, it's priceless, it's a historic relic," she said. "It's part of our Catholic tradition."
Long Beach Police said they wanted to speak with a woman, described as a heavyset Latina in her 30s with wavy, unkempt dark hair, whom they called a "person of interest" in the case.
Burglary detectives asked for the public's help in identifying her.
"The staff at the church noticed she had been paying a lot of attention to the cabinet and tried to have access to the requilary," Guevara said.
According to Butler's Lives of the Saints, St. Anthony was born in Lisbon in 1195 and died in Padua on June 13, 1231, at the age of 36. He was canonized within a year of his death.
(Editing by Jerry Morton)