MECCA, Calif. - As Catholics celebrated a new pope, thieves targeted a church in Mecca, and it's not the first time.
Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mecca, will be rebuilt this summer. This is after it's roof collapsed several years ago. A church in Orange County even donated a marble altar to be the centerpiece. But, as the white smoke signaled a new Pope, the church discovered a main piece of the altar stolen.
"As a lot of people know, this church struggles with money and the last thing we need is to have more expenses," said Father Hector Vasquez. But, that's exactly what happened.
About two weeks ago Our Lady of Guadalupe received what would be the church's new altar. Two large marble tables were donated from another church in Newport Beach.
"It was so big, we couldn't get it inside the building, so we stacked it in behind the building," said Deacon Charlie Stanton.
When people came to move the tables on Wednesday, a volunteer noticed pieces were missing.
"The legs, the support piece for the altar, was gone. It was missing," said Stanton.
Faint scratches on the concrete show how difficult it must have been to steal. The church itself used a forklift to move ithe tables.
"It just shows you people don't have a lot of respect of anything in this day and age; it's very hard," said Stanton.
The church locked up the remaining pieces inside a storage facility a few miles away.
"I am saddened that this happened of course. We try to bring people together, it's always a puzzle why people need to take things that they will have difficulty selling," said Vasquez.
This is not the first time the church has fallen on hard times. Seven years ago, the roof of Our Lady of Guadalupe collapsed. Since then, parishioners have been worshiping in a temporary tent. Also, just last year, thieves stole copper out of the church's air conditioning.
"When people get desperate they do desperate things," said Stanton.
"It's frustrating but it's not hopeless. We always try to sense the good in people," said Vasquez.
The church says it's willing to forgive. "If whoever took it or knows someone who took it, we would appreciate some information to bring it back. We are not interested in prosecuting anybody, we just want our property back," said Vasquez.
The theft was discovered Wednesday but, it could have happened anytime in the past two weeks. The church did file a police report.
The church hopes the people who took it didn't know it belonged to a church, and after reading this story will hopefully return it.
If you have any information about this altar theft, call Valley Crimestoppers at (760) 341-stop. You can remain anonymous and could be eligible for a $1,000 reward.