Two weeks before Easter, it wasn’t the return of Jesus this parish was looking for.
But after a mysterious package that showed up at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Hoboken, New Jersey, turned out to contain a statue that was stolen from a Nativity scene outside the church nine decades ago, the Rev. Alex Santora is doing the only thing a Christian can under the circumstances:
He’s counting his blessings.
In a feel-good story that’s generated coverage on local television stations and been picked up by The Associated Press and The Christian Post, the world is learning how a sin committed generations ago can be redeemed by a person determined to make things right.
It happened on Wednesday, when Santora received a package at the church that made him suspicious at first.
There was no return address on the parcel, and it appeared to have been wrapped somewhat amateurishly, Santora told NBC 4.
So, considering the times, when even churches have been the targets of the politically motivated or emotionally disturbed, he did what any cautious person would do.
He went to the authorities.
“The post office said, ‘It’s just from Crystal Springs, Florida, no name,'” Santora told the station. “I was still more concerned. So … I called the police.”
Check out coverage of the story on ABC7 here.
The Hoboken Police Department’s Emergency Service Unit checked the package out, determined it didn’t have a bomb inside, then opened it up, Santora said.
What they found inside contained some answers.
Amid a welter of packaging paper there was a statue of a baby Jesus and a typewritten letter from whoever had sent it:
“To Whom it may concern, My mom told me that the Baby Jesus had been stolen from the church Nativity display at Our Lady of Grace when she was a young girl of about 12 years of age in the early 1930s.
“It came into her father’s possession somehow, and I don’t know why he didn’t return it. Instead, he gave it to my mother after she was married, and she, too, kept it until her passing when it came to me. Knowing the story, I felt it should be returned to the rightful owner, and you will find it enclosed.”
The history of Our Lady of Grace goes back to its founding in 1871, according to the parish website. That was a time when Catholic immigrants from Europe were pouring into the United States, many through via New York City, just across the Hudson River from Hoboken.
The disappearance of a Jesus figurine from a Nativity scene around 1930 must have been quite a mystery at the church decades ago.
So, one mystery might have been solved, but it’s raising a lot of new questions too. Who was it who stole the statue so long ago? How had it been kept in relatively pristine condition for so long?
How many family gatherings had the statue seen between Hoboken, New Jersey, and a small town in Florida an hour from the Gulf of Mexico?
Parishioners at Our Lady of Grace might be wondering all of that, but they’re really just glad to get the statue back.
And the lesson it’s carrying is a perfect on for the Christian world as it approaches the greatest, most meaningful holiday of all.
“I guess we have to have faith in humanity after all,” parishioner Arlene Ricciardi told NBC 4.
And maybe faith in something much greater, too.
“As Christians we say that no matter what you have done, you can be forgiven,” he told the station. “Clearly, though I don’t know who sent it, in my heart they are forgiven because they did the right thing.”
And just in time for the coming of Easter.
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