In a holiday season teeming with traditions, the enduring (and illegal) practice of pilfering baby Jesus statues from nativity scenes appears to be alive and well, particularly in northern New Jersey, where at least five churches have reported such thefts since Christmas Eve.
The Archdiocese of Newark confirmed the thefts to NBC New York, and said the figurines had been snatched from St. Clare Roman Catholic Church in Clifton; Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church and St. Cecilia Roman Catholic Church, both in Kearny; Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Lyndhurst; and Queen of Peace Church in North Arlington. The churches are all within about 10 miles of one another.
The thefts in New Jersey are believed to be part of a yearly tradition, often carried out by bored teenagers looking for an easy prank. But the victims — including church clergy, homeowners, town officials and restaurant owners — rarely see the humor of stealing the centerpiece of a religious celebration.
In recent years, surveillance systems have been installed to keep watch over nativity scenes. Bolts, fasteners, fences and other restraints have been constructed to keep thieves away. The occasional baby Jesus statue has even been outfitted with a GPS tracker.
But still, every year, a Jesus statue goes missing somewhere. Sometimes a Mary one goes missing, too.
In a post on its website titled “Baby Jesus Is Missing,” Saint Clare church asked for the return of the figurine that went missing from its manger sometime overnight on Saturday. A GoFundMe page has been set up and has raised $150 toward the purchase of a new one.
“We need to let people know that a crime like this will not be tolerated,” the church said on its website. “Also, let us continue to pray for the conversion of sinners, most especially those that did this act.”
Other parts of the country have also confronted such thievery this year.
Last week, a baby Jesus figurine was snatched from the town common in Greenfield, Massachusetts, for the second time this year, according to MassLive. Volunteers in town are dealing with the recurring thefts by buying cheaper stand-ins — one stolen last year cost about $3,000.
“It’s no longer the very expensive baby Jesus that we used to have,” Amy Clarke told The Recorder in Greenfield of the missing figurine this year. “It’s a pretty little doll.”
In San Antonio, a terminally ill woman’s nativity scene was burgled on Christmas Day, Fox San Antonio reported.
“I’ll pray for them,” Catherine Cain told the station after her baby Jesus figurine went missing. “I’m going to pray for their soul.”
And in Paradise, Pennsylvania, an especially brazen theft: A baby Jesus figurine was lifted from its manger outside the National Christmas Center, a holiday museum, sometime between Christmas Eve and Saturday.
“I guess we were too trusting,” the manager, Janice Doutrich, told PennLive.