780-year-old religious relic of St. Anthony of Padua has been stolen, and parishioners at a Southern California Catholic church are praying to the patron saint of lost items and missing persons for its speedy return. The relic was stolen from inside a cabinet beside the altar at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Long Beach on Monday, the feast day of the churchs namesake. The Rev. Jose Magana said he decided to bring out the relic this year, on the 780th anniversary of the death of St. Anthony, because many of his parishioners have lost hope in the rough economy. Magana said the relic is invaluable and deeply symbolic to his parish. Its our history, so its irreplaceable, Magana said. It belongs to the church, not just the church here in Long Beach, but the entire Catholic church. The church opened at 6 a.m., and when Magana turned to the relic during the 9 a.m. Mass, it had disappeared. Magana could hear his parishioners gasp when they realised it was gone, but he continued with the service and called police immediately afterward. Long Beach police Lt. Paul Arcala said the relic is housed in a 16-inch (40-centimeter) tall reliquary case with angel-shaped handles made of gold and silver on either side. He declined to describe it further because that might jeopardize the investigation. The last time it was on view was eight years ago, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the parish. In Catholicism, relics are usually part of a saints body or clothes and revered as a physical connection to the saint. While church members are upset that someone would steal a holy object, their faith is still strong. They said, 'Father, hes the patron saint of lost causes, so hell come home,' Magana said. Police were looking for a person who was seen at all five Masses on Sunday and was unusually curious about the relic, Arcala said. Witnesses said she got too close and had to be asked to step away. The woman was in her late 30s and was short and heavyset with wavy, shoulder-length black hair. Im hoping weve got some higher sources whove got our backs here and we can get it back, Magana said. People here are pretty upset but theyre praying. Theyre praying to St. Anthony for the return of his own object. JP