Tabernacle, Eucharist stolen from St. Pascal Baylon

| September 5, 2015 | 0 Comments
Three men stole a tabernacle containing the Eucharist from St. Pascal Baylon in St. Paul Aug. 4. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

Three men stole a tabernacle containing the Eucharist from St. Pascal Baylon in St. Paul Sept. 4. Maria Wiering/The Catholic Spirit

Parishioners of St. Pascal Baylon in St. Paul are praying for the return of a solid bronze tabernacle containing the Eucharist that was stolen before dawn Sept. 4. Video surveillance footage showed three young men leaving the church at 3:21 a.m., one rolling the tablernacle estimated to weigh more than 50 pounds down the sidewalk toward Conway Street.

The sacred vessel was valued at $15,000, but leaders of the parish and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are more concerned about the Eucharist it contained. Catholics believe the Eucharist is the actual body of Christ. Consecrated hosts not consumed at Mass are reserved in tabernacles.

Before Mass Sept. 6, Father Michael Byron, St. Pascal Baylon’s pastor, addressed the congregation, assuring them the St. Paul Police has made the crime’s investigation a priority.

The tabernacle stolen from St. Pascal Baylon church Sept. 4 contained the Eucharist, which is what most concerns Church leaders. Courtesy St. Pascal Baylon

The tabernacle stolen from St. Pascal Baylon church Sept. 4 contained the Eucharist, which is what most concerns Church leaders. Courtesy St. Pascal Baylon

“We acknowledge the loss, grief, maybe the anger, and we entrust our lives to the Lord as we always do,” he said. “As we carry around that extra heaviness this morning, let us do so with faith and gratitude for the things that we have and hope for the future of our community.”

St. Pascal Baylon’s tabernacle was located in an alcove chapel behind the altar; it was obscured from general view by a brick-lattice grille. It is engraved with a cross flanked by two genuflecting angels, one holding a chalice and the other holding bread. Father Byron told The Catholic Spirit he suspects it was stolen for the value of its metal and that the thieves do not understand its spiritual significance.

No other valuables were disturbed, he said, but they did find a pitcher of juice the men had taken from the kitchen and drank, which indicated to Father Byron that the thieves were in the church for awhile.

A sacristan preparing for morning Mass Sept. 4 discovered the tabernacle was missing around 7 a.m. When Father Byron realized it was gone, he felt sick to his stomach, he said. He trembled during Mass that morning, he said, because of the “sense of violence.” He told parishioners at the end of that liturgy, he said, and they showed “an overwhelming sadness and shock.”

One of the church’s front doors was accidentally left unlocked the night of the crime, but Father Byron thinks the men may have entered the church earlier that evening during a parish meeting, as surveillance footage does not show them entering the church during the night. Upon discovering the tabernacle’s theft, Father Byron immediately contacted the police, and forensics and burglary units spent Friday morning at the church.

The Eucharist is currently being reserved in a small tabernacle retrieved from parish storage. Father Byron has received calls from local pastors offering to lend, sell or give a replacement tabernacle to the parish.

The pastor estimated 100 to 150 consecrated hosts were in the tabernacle. Nothing about the crime suggests to him that the thieves’ aim was the Eucharist, he said.

Father Byron is most concerned about how the theft affects the community because of the tabernacle’s spiritual significance, he said.

The thieves did not take the tabernacle key, which heightens Father Byron’s concern, as the thieves may damage or destroy it as they try to open the door. The tabernacle was refurbished about 13 years ago, when the current church was built. St. Patrick’s Guild, a St. Paul religious goods store, told him it would cost $18,000 to replace.

Archdiocesan leaders are concerned that the Eucharist the tabernacle contained could be desecrated, which is a serious crime in the Catholic Church. Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, asks Catholics to pray for the return of the Eucharist to a Catholic Church and for the crime’s perpetrators.

“Obviously, we want it back,” Father Byron said. “I’m not angry about it; it’s just so sad and so shocking. I have to think that whoever would do something like this has no idea what they’ve done.”

“If nothing else, it’s a great opportunity to think about exactly what we’ve got in that tabernacle and its importance in our life,” he added.

Located on St. Paul’s East Side, St. Pascal Baylon is home to about 1,150 Catholic families and includes a parish school. Father Byron said the parish and school have experienced break-ins before, which included theft of some computer equipment.

Parishioner Gayle Wasmundt, 58, said she was shocked when she learned the news at Sunday Mass Sept. 6. A St. Pascal Baylon parishioner for 55 years and an alumna of its grade school, Wasmundt said the tabernacle’s loss makes her feel “like there’s a piece missing.”

Fellow longtime parishioner Philip Lay, 67, said he hopes that the thieves pay with jail time.

Theft of the Eucharist is a serious but not uncommon crime against the Catholic Church. In August, a tabernacle with consecrated hosts was stolen from a Los Angeles parish but returned undamaged two days later. The incident followed a July tabernacle theft from another L.A. parish. In March, a tabernacle containing the Eucharist was stolen from a parish in Buffalo, New York.

In February, the bishop of Belley-Ars, France, ordered the Eucharist be removed from chapels and churches in the diocese after several tabernacles in its parishes were desecrated and the Eucharist stolen.

In August 2014, stolen consecrated hosts were returned to Archbishop Paul Coakley of Oklahoma City after a satanic group threatened to use them in a ritual.

Perhaps the most famous incident of Eucharist theft occurred in 1730, when thieves stole consecrated hosts from a church in Siena, Italy. The community prayed for their return, and three days later they were discovered in an offering box. They were never consumed and did not deteriorate. Considered miraculously preserved, they have been the subject of several scientific examinations — the most recent in 1922 — and are still available for public viewing today.

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