Tube of John Paul II's blood stolen

Rome - A tube containing Polish pope John Paul II's blood has been stolen from a church in Italy, sparking a region-wide search involving sniffer dogs and 50 police officers, Italian media reports said on Monday.

The vial was stolen on Saturday from the San Pietro della Ienca church in the mountainous Abruzzo region in central Italy where the pope, who died in 2005, loved to go on skiing holidays, according to the Repubblica daily.

This file photo dated November 26, 1986 shows Pope John Paul II holding his zucchetto, small skullcap, in Sydney. Picture: P BARNES. Credit: AFP

Police and sniffer dogs are sweeping the area, famed for its weathered stone houses and the little church where the head of the Catholic Church once reportedly took refuge in a storm.

Pasquale Corriere, head of the “San Pietro della Ienca” association, said there are only three vials in the world containing the former pontiff's blood.

John Paul II and the Italian pope John XXIII - known as the “good pope” - are set to become saints in a ceremony at the Vatican in April expected to draw hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.