An unknown thief or thieves hit Westport’s St. John the Baptist Church hard over the weekend, stealing precious religious items, forcing the cancellation of a weekend Mass and leaving priest, parishioners and police searching for answers.
Sometime between Friday night and 3 p.m. Saturday when the intrusion was discovered, the intruder(s) entered the church and stole the church’s heavy engraved brass tabernacle, and with it the communion host (consecrated bread) it contained. Monetary value of that item alone is estimated at over $10,000 — church members say the emotional value of the loss of the host is beyond calculation.
Also taken were a missal, candle holders, a chalice, prayer book and other items needed to hold Mass.
“They stole everything that you need to conduct Mass,” said the Rev. Leonard Hindsley, who said the intrusion is beyond anything he has experienced.
The intruder(s) left damage behind as well, breaking a crucifix at the church altar, and tossing about a Bible, pictures of saints and other items in an adjoining room.
Beyond the losses, theFather Hindsley said the destruction leaves him and others there feeling “violated.” He and others wonder whether more than mere thievery is involved given the apparent anger involved. Police, though, say the matter remains a robbery and vandalism investigation for now.
Before the church could resume its duties, Father Hindsley led a church re-consecration before Sunday morning Mass.
A first for him, “It was necessary because the church was profaned.”
For Simonne Conlon, president of the St. John’s Women’s Guild, that was an important moment in the healing process.
“The sense of violation, sadness and outrage hit all of us … we showed up at Mass Saturday, the police were there and we couldn’t enter our own church. People were crying — Father was crying, we felt defeated.” Worst, of all, she said, was the loss of the host — “they took our sacrament — that was what was most unimaginable.”
Sunday, she said she and others felt lost but then Father Hindsley told them he had obtained the Bishop’s permission for a re-consecration — “something that was new to us.”
Father Hindsley invited the 200 or so people who were present to join him outside. There they joined him in a procession around the church as he sprinkled holy water (using an improvised method since the device used to sprinkle the water had also been stolen).
“Very powerful, very moving,” Father Hindsley said of the experience. He recited the Liturgy of the Saints and read Psalm 67 as they re-entered the church.
“That was when the healing began,” Ms. Conlon said. “Father did a beautiful job and it was a huge step for all of us.”
Later Father Hindsley read from the Gospel about forgiveness.
“That is not always so easy but hopefully it will come. That is how healing will happen,” Ms. Conlon added.
Police say there was no sign of forced entry although the 945 Main Road church is often left open so that members can visit.
Police have asked anyone with information that might help their investigation to call 508-636-1122.