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Vial of Pope John Paul II's blood stolen from Italian church

Wojtek Laski / Getty Images

View a timeline of photographs spanning the life of Pope John Paul II.

ROME — A relic containing drops of late Pope John Paul II's blood has been stolen, and Italian police speculate the thieves may want it for satanic rites.

The vial was stolen from the Church of San Pietro della Ienca in the mountainous Abruzzo region in central Italy on Saturday. Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, loved to go on skiing holidays in the area.

Italian police via AP, file

A relic with a vial containing the late Pope John Paul II's blood is seen in 2012.

The theft sparked a major search operation involving sniffer dogs and dozens of police officers.

Italian authorities said they believe the theft was commissioned, as thieves stole only the relic and left many other valuables behind at the church.

Only three of John Paul II's relics contain his blood and they are all considered of great religious value.

As the late pontiff's blood would be difficult to sell, Italian police said it is possible the thieves may plan to use it for satanic rites.

Arguably one of the most popular popes in modern history, John Paul II is due to become a saint in April.

Pope Francis has approved the canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, with ceremonies expected at the end of the year.