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Christchurch Catholic Parish Devastated By Theft Of Sacred Items

Niva Chittock, Reporter

A Christchurch church is offering a reward for the return of $20,000 worth of stolen sacred objects.

Intruders broke into St Teresa's Church in Riccarton on Sunday night, taking tabernacles, chalices and a small amount of cash.

The Holy Family Christchurch parish priest Father Michael Therese Scheerger said the community was devastated by the theft.

"It's not just the monetary value. These items are sacred. They're used for worship, for the celebration of the sacraments. They hold deep spiritual significance for our community," he said.

Father Michael watched the thieves on the church's CCTV cameras.

Wearing hoodies and gloves, they covered their faces and broke in through one of the church's doors, using torches to find items of interest.

"They made a real mess of the place ... all the cupboards were open, there was stuff all over the place, files all over the ground. Everything [was] pretty much taken out of its place and dumped all over the ground," Father Michael said.

The items were unique, easily recognisable, and could not be easily sold or used, Father Michael said.

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The two tabernacles were saved from churches destroyed in the 2011 Canterbury Earthquakes, which the parish was storing ahead of them being moved into new churches, Father Michael said.

"We had plans for them. They're like metal boxes, about 30 centimetres to half a metre cubed, relatively big and they look artistic.

"They're worth, to buy them new for a Catholic, probably about $6000 each," he said.

He had received an email on Thursday morning from the parish's Korean community, who said it felt like "another loss after the earthquakes" and "a low point" for the parish when it had been planning to restore the items to its churches

"We're asking anyone who may have seen or heard anything suspicious to come forward. Even the smallest detail could help us recover these precious items."

The break-in was one of more than 10 at two of the parish's churches across the city's western suburbs in recent years, he said.

He had lost count of how many exactly there had been.

St Teresa's was the most targeted, with thousands of dollars of power tools stolen from it's garage previously and on another occasion, a fire proof document safe jimmied open and damaged irreparably with a crowbar.

In both cases, the culprits had not been found, Father Michael said.

Although various security measures had been implemented, thieves had always found a way to bypass them, Father Michael said.

"We're working closely with the police and exploring further security options", such as an automatic alarm system, Father Michael said.

An alarm system was expensive, but it was getting to the point now where the value of what was being taken was more than the system would cost, he said.

Police had told him churches were frequently targeted across Christchurch because people considered them to be "soft targets" that would not do anything in response, so they could easily get away without being caught.

A police report had been filed for the items and anyone with information was urged to contact the Holy Family parish or police.

"We just want them back. These are not just objects to us. They are part of our faith, our history and our community."

Police have been contacted for comment.

A bell missing from an Auckland church was found on Wednesday, after disappearing for months when thieves stole it in January.

Police had asked a neighbour of the church to store the bell in her garage for the time being.

Meanwhile, precious religious garments stolen from a Wellington church were returned - complete with an apology note in January.

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