It was a brazen, and blasphemous crime. A Catholic community in northern New Mexico is beside itself after a man burst into the adoration chapel at Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church, and stole something very precious to them.
The priest at Sacred Heart told News 13 this is the highest form of desecration he's seen. He made a plea to the burglar Tuesday afternoon before police arrested the suspect.
It's meant for prayer, a place of peace, open 24/7. So, when a man walked into the adoration chapel at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Española on Monday afternoon, the two people in there praying couldn't believe what he did.
"There is something so precious to us as Catholics that he has taken, and that is the Eucharist," explained Father Vitus Ezeiruaku, of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
The suspect police later identified as Isaac Morfin, made a b-line for the monstrance, which holds the Eucharist, then ran out the door, dropping part of it in the parking lot.
"We believe that Jesus is holy and entire in humanity and divinity, present in the holy Eucharist," explained Father Ezeiruaku. "So it means everything to us."
Detective Solomon Romero of the Española Police Department said, ""We do believe that this individual may have been inside the chapel the day before, maybe looking at it or coming up with some sort of plan."
One worshiper followed the suspect around the corner, but the suspect got away.
Parishioners have had a hard time dealing with the crime.
"It is not just the Catholic Church alone, but this entire community, not just the parish alone, but the entire community, who see this as a place of refuge," explained Father Ezeiruaku.
"It's a small community, it's predominantly Catholic, it's extremely upsetting," added Detective Romero.
On Tuesday afternoon, police conducted a search warrant, and arrested 39-year-old Morfin for burglary and larceny.
"What he did is more than what he thinks, because he has touched the center of our belief, the center of our worship," said Ezeiruaku.
Before the arrest, the priest made a plea to the burglar.
"If he can find it in his heart to consider this community in pain and bring back what he has taken, I believe God's mercy follows him, and he will know the peace of God that he gives to those who say, Lord I am sorry."
Española police told News 13 late Tuesday afternoon the stolen monstrance and the Eucharist were recovered at Morfin's home. The monstrance suffered minor damage.
It's still unclear what the motive was for stealing it. Online court records show Morfin has a criminal record dating back more than a decade. The church had mass at 4 p.m. and a mass of atonement at 5:30 Tuesday.
The Eucharist will be put back and the adoration chapel is still open.