UPDATE (Sept. 8, 2022, 6:53 a.m.): The Virgin Mary statue could be seen inside St. Andrews the Apostle church in Gibbsboro, New Jersey, during morning prayers.
Some parishioners cried as the statue was brought inside.
UPDATE (Sept. 7, 2022, 5:14 p.m.): Police in Gibbsboro, New Jersey, said a 64-year-old man from Woodbury was arrested and charged in connection to the stolen Virgin Mary statue from St. Andrews the Apostle church.
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The statue of the Lady of Fatima was recovered and returned to the chapel, police said.
"You cannot begin to imagine the joy we are experiencing," Msgr. Louis Marucci said.
Police said the man was charged with theft Wednesday and will need to appear in court.
"The only reason that was given was the person was angry at God," Marucci said. "They were angry at God and they decided to do this deliberate act because of their anger at God. They did say they were gonna return it one day."
UPDATE (Sept. 7, 2022, 11:10 a.m.): A church leader said police apprehended the man who allegedly stole the statue and that he still had it in his possession.
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Police and church parishioners are searching for a man who they say was caught on camera stealing with a large statue of the Virgin Mary from a church in Camden County, New Jersey.
Video appears to show the man taking the 3.5-to-4-foot piece off its perch and carrying it out of St. Andrew the Apostle Roman Catholic Church in Gibbsboro last Tuesday, Aug. 30.
Monsignor Louis Marucci said he purchased the statue in Portugal for about $4,000 during a special pilgrimage in 2016.
However, the monetary value doesn’t compare to the spiritual significance and symbolism of what the statue represents, Marucci said. The statue is one of only four Blessed Mother statues of its likeness in the world.
It's an exact replica of the statue that is used in evening processions at the Catholic pilgrimage site in Fátima, Portugal, Marucci said.
The monsignor said when Pope John Paul II was shot in an assassination attempt in 1981, the Vatican sent the bullet to Fátima, saying by Mary’s grace, his life was spared.
“They dipped the bullet into gold and inserted it in her crown,” Marucci said. “So the crown that graces the statue of ‘our lady’ is a replica of that crown.”
Monsignor believes it was a premeditated act.
“The person walked through the woods,” Marucci told NBC10’s Cydney Long. “They went in to look around to see if anyone was there.”
Marucci said he believes the man may be suffering mentally, and in that case, the church may decide not to press charges. However, if it was an act to deliberately do harm against the church, then he believes it’s a crime and should be punishable.
“We will continue to pray the person has a change of heart,” Marucci said.
The monsignor said a special celebration scheduled Thursday called the “Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady” will not be the same without the beloved statue.
For 12 hours that day, Mary’s birthday, parishioners recite the Hail Mary prayer 2,000 times, Marucci said.
Anyone with information on this case can contact St. Andrew the Apostle Church at 856-784-3878.