By Eric Kurhi and Robert Salonga
CAMPBELL — A stolen statue of St. Bernadette, patron saint of the sick, was found Thursday wrapped in a mattress pad and no worse for wear in a parking stall about four blocks from its home at the St. Mary Assyrian Chaldean Catholic Church.
Church officials said they hope to have the kneeling St. Bernadette back on a pedestal in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary as soon as Sunday.
“Most likely we will end up with a camera surveillance system,” said Gilbert Sangari, parish council president. Despite the theft, he said, the statues will remain in an outdoor prayer alcove in front of the downtown Campbell church because “the whole idea of the two statues is really for the public.
“Our members can go inside to pray,” Sangari said. “This is for people who are not able to come to church. It’s a place for everybody, regardless of what religion or who you pray to. I’ve seen people with Muslim veils in there praying.”
Campbell police working on a tip found the statue in an office parking lot near Hamilton Avenue and Third Street just before noon. Investigators checked the statue for evidence — St. Bernadette was even swabbed for DNA — before it was delivered to grateful hands at the church.
“They were very ecstatic,” said Campbell police Sgt. Gary Berg. “This worked out great for everybody.”
The 3-foot-tall, 70-pound statue was stolen a week ago, apparently unbolted and spirited away sometime overnight. It is part of a
scene depicting a vision of the Virgin Mary appearing before St. Bernadette in Lourdes, France, in the 19th century. The larger statue was also loosened from its base, and police believe it turned out to be too heavy to plunder.
Sangari thanked Campbell police, the public and the media for putting out word about the purloined porcelain figure, a handmade piece commissioned from an Italian company that makes statues for the Vatican.
“After all the publicity, the person probably didn’t want to deal with it,” Sangari said. “The publicity would come back and haunt them.”
The statue was bought and shipped to the United States at a cost of about $12,000 — donated by a family who lost a loved one right before the church’s grand opening — before it was put on display in 1997.
While Sgt. Berg said they’ll keep evidence on file “in case it turns into something bigger,” the case is essentially closed — the church has no interest in pursuing charges.
“That’s not what our religion teaches,” Sangari said. “Our religion teaches us to forgive. Even if they catch who it is, we would pray for them, ask God to forgive them.”