ROME - A trio of thieves aboard a train stole a priest's backpack containing a vial of the late Pope John Paul II's blood on Tuesday, but police recovered the relic a few hours later, authorities said.
The relic was found in a stand of reeds and grass near the railway station in the seaside town of Marina di Cerveteri, where the thieves had gotten off the train, said state railways police official Domenico Ponziani.
Police said the priest began his journey aboard the train in Rome and was heading to a sanctuary north of the capital where the relic was supposed to be put on display for admirers of the Polish pontiff, who died in 2005.
When the priest got off the train at Civitavecchia, a port city and rail hub, he realized his backpack was missing. He told police that a man who was travelling aboard the train with two others had distracted him by asking directions, before the trio got off the train a few stops before his , according to Ponziani.
After a few hours of searching, police found the relic, without the backpack, apparently tossed among the reeds, Ponziani said.
The blood was contained in a tiny glass vial inserted into a reliquary in the form of an open book with gilded pages.
Police were searching for the thieves and said it wasn't clear if they had realized what the vial contained and tossed it away, or had planned on coming back later to retrieve the relic from the station's wayside.
John Paul's relics have gone on display in several parts of the world.
The Vatican has put the Polish-born pontiff on the road to possible sainthood. Last year, his successor, Benedict XVI, beatified John Paul in a ceremony to mark the last major step before sainthood.