A major police search is under way after a relic stained with Pope John Paul II?s blood was stolen from a church in Italy.

A region-wide hunt involving sniffer dogs and 50 police officers was launched after the small framed square of cloth was taken from the San Pietro della lenca church on Saturday.

The church sits in the mountainous Abruzzo region in central Italy where the Polish Pope, who died in 2005, often skied.

The thieves apparently broke in through protective iron bars and forced their way through a window.

?The church was closed because of a snow storm. When we went to reopen it, we saw the bars on one of the windows had been sawn through. The thieves entered that way, and stole the relic,??Pasquale?Corriere, head of the San?Pietro?della?Ienca?association?said.

It was previously reported that the relic was a vial of the former pope?s blood, but Mr Corriere?confirmed it was a framed cloth given to the church in 2011 by Stanislaw Dziwisz, a cardinal who served as John Paul II?s personal secretary.

In 2012 a priest travelling north from Rome had his backpack containing a vial of the pope?s blood stolen.

Local police were alerted and it was retrieved from reeds next to a nearby railway station.

The blood was taken from Pope John Paul II following an assassination attempt in St Peter?s Square in 1981.

John Paul II is set to become a saint in a ceremony at the Vatican in April.



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