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Even after desecration, a welcome

There are simple signs taped to the doors of St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church on Abbott Road in South Buffalo.

The white paper printouts bear just four words: “Come, See for Yourself.” The signs aren’t any bigger than a sheet of copy paper, but the message is unmistakable to those who enter: Welcome.

“Come, See for Yourself.” See that there are places in our crazy world that still offer hope. That do not lock their doors. That provide peace and solace when things seem to be spinning from their axis.

“Come, See for Yourself.” Hear the midmorning silence after morning Mass has ended. See the candles flicker in the dark. Take in the vibrant sun as it filters through the blues, purples and greens of the stained-glass window.

“Come, See for Yourself.” Seek comfort in a parish that prays for the sick. Find help among clergy who offer compassion. Feel the love of people praying in the adoration chapel.

The serenity at St. Martin was shattered last week when someone stole the brass and bronze box, known as a tabernacle, which holds the wafer hosts used in Communion after they have been consecrated. It may sound like a petty crime, but to Catholics, there are few things more sacred in the parish than the Eucharist contained in the tabernacle.

“Everybody I’ve talked to has just been bowled over by this, just, ‘How can this happen?’ ” said the Rev. Monsignor Joseph Sicari, priest in residence at St. Martin. “It’s obviously a person who is in need of help on many levels of life.”

Adding to the bizarre nature of the story is the fact that the tabernacle, which likely weighed as much as 50 pounds, was secured to a marble table just outside an adoration chapel where people were praying when the theft occurred.

This was not easy to pull off.

All of that left Catholics across the region wondering last week: Who would do such a thing?

The story of the stolen tabernacle wasn’t the only church crime last week. Police in Lackawanna investigated a theft of a donation box at Our Lady of Victory Basilica in Lackawanna. In the Town of Tonawanda, an usher was accused of stealing thousands of dollars from a collection basket.

You can see these stories as signs of desperate times in a confounding world where even churches are subject to the kind of thefts that erode a community and steal people’s sense of security.

Or you can see in them a message of hope as thousands across the region prepare for Easter Week to begin with Palm Sunday this weekend.

There’s hope for the same reason that St. Martin of Tours Church will not stop welcoming strangers despite someone brazenly taking advantage of the parish’s open-door policy.

Sicari sees in the thief a person in need of the very help the church and its social services agency provide.

“We will not be overcome by people who need our assistance,” Sicari said. “All the more reason for the church to be there. All the more reason for people to say, ‘Yes, there is a place to go to find help when I’m in need, when I’m hurting.’ People have the resolve in saying, ‘We’re not going to let this get to us.’ ”

In other words, the church will not join the many places in this world that have found it easiest to just simply lock strangers out. It will not take down its welcome signs.