A small baby Jesus nativity statue that was stolen over eight decades ago has been returned to the doorstep of a New Jersey Roman Catholic church.
The statute in question, which was stolen from the church during the 1930s, was returned by an unknown sender in a mysterious package that appeared at the doorstep of the Our Lady of Grace Church on Wednesday.
According to ABC7, church staff said the package was addressed to the church but did not have a return address.
Fearing what was inside the box, the priest, Alexander Santora, called police.
Santora told NBC4 that he decided to call the authorities because he realized that "it was packed by a person," rather than uniformly packed as if it were packed by a company.
"The post office said, 'It's just from Crystal Springs, Florida, no name,'" Santora recalled. "I was still more concerned. So I called the police."
Santora explained that the police officers used a heat detecting device to determine that the package was safe to open.
Inside the box was the statue along with an unsigned note that appeared to have been written in early January.
"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," the note explained. "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."
Santora said that even after all these years, the statue was in great condition. The only blemish, he added, was "a chip on the bottom." Santora told NBC4 that he is unsure if the rest of the nativity set that the baby Jesus belonged to is still in the church's possession.
"Let us pray that we always have the confidence to do the right thing, as this family did," Santora told the parishioners during mid-day mass after the statue's return. "That statue of Jesus may have been worth perhaps a few dollars. But symbolically, it really represents who we are as a community."
Rose Dukic, a parishioner, told ABC7 that she is appreciative of the statue's return.
"When something comes home after all these years, it's a little Jesus, it's like a lost child coming home," Dukic told ABC7.
Parishioner Arlene Ricciardi told NBC4 that the statue's return was the "best news all week."
"So wow, wow!" she said. "I guess we have to have faith in humanity after all."
Considering that "Thou shall not steal" is one of the Ten Commandments, Santora said that whoever stole the statue all those years ago is forgiven.
"As Christians we say that no matter what you have done, you can be forgiven," he said. "Clearly, though I don't know who sent it, in my heart they are forgiven because they did the right thing."