Beloved statue stolen

BARTO, Pa. - September 25, 2008 - Police say someone drove up on the property of the National Padre Pio Center in Barto, Pa., this week and stole the giant "Angel of Roses" statue.

It had been housed in Berks County for ten years.

The statue was taken sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday morning.

The Angel of Roses, an 8-foot tall, 1500 pound, solid bronze statue has stood at the entrance to the Padre Pio shrine since before the Italian friar was canonized as a Roman Catholic Saint in 1998.

He was said to be the first priest to bear the wounds of Christ; one of his statues stands near the Angel, who served as a guardian for visitors who come here to pray before both.

An early morning maintenance crew noticed the Angel missing on Wednesday, the day after staffers celebrated the feast of Padre Pio. It marked the day he died 40 years ago.

The statue was stolen in the hours afterward.

"The boldness to come right up on the property, break her bolts, stick her on a truck, and take her away!" said Julia Calandra-Linberg, the shrine's vice-president.

Pennsylvania State Police believe the poor economy may have driven someone to steal the bronze statue to sell it for scrap.

As a piece of art, it's worth about $60,000. As scrap metal it would bring about $2,500.

Investigators add private collectors, looking for bronzes from the early 20th century, may have targeted the Angel.

Either way, investigators think it was a professional job.

"We had gotten a call from New York that said they had a rash of thieves that were taking out bronzes, especially in churches, but they're already sold," said Calandra-Linberg.

A distraught Mary Tuturice, of Norristown, came to the shrine with her husband Thursday, after having raised money to bring the statue to Berks County.

She was devastated when she heard it had been taken.

"I broke down, really I did. It was a great thing in my life," Tuturice said. "Padre Pio has answered a lot of my prayers."

Jim Tuturice owns a scrap metal business & has been scouring various sites, in an effort to locate the Angel.

Many are now praying to Padre Pio for her return.

"We want her back and we'll take her in any condition that she is in," said Calandra-Linberg. "She has given so much hope to so many people."

State Police, along with dozens of people from the Padre Pio Center, are searching recycling sites and notifying scrap dealers in Pottstown, Quakertown, Allentown and Bethlehem trying to find the statue.

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