Volume 16 • Issue 32 | January 9 - 15, 2004

First baby Jesus theft remains a mystery

By Lincoln Anderson

Downtown Express photo by Lincoln Anderson

The Virgin Mary is missing her child at St. Anthony’s crèche.

Over a week has passed since the infant Jesus was kidnapped from a nativity scene on Houston St., and the statuette’s whereabouts remain a mystery.

Part of a block-long Christmas display outside St. Anthony of Padua Church between Sullivan and Thompson Sts., the resin baby Jesus was abducted sometime on the morning of New Year’s Eve.

“Please return our infant Jesus +,” reads a sign glued to the board in the plywood stable on which the figure had been propped.

“We have absolutely no clue as to who or to why,” Father Simeon DiStefano, St. Anthony’s pastor, said. “Some people are very quick to give an evil motive. I think it was just some mischief; some kids coming out of the clubs. One of the guys or one of the couples have it, they took it home,” DiStefano surmised. “I think they treated it with some awe and respect, no evil purposes,” he added.

“It’s one of the aspects of the Big Apple,” he said. “But it shook up the parish.”

The crèche has been a feature of the parish for 70 years, though the current, life-size statues are only about 10 years old. The scene includes a full assortment of oxen and sheep, and inside the plywood shelter, Mary, Joseph, angels and a time-traveling St. Francis of Assisi — there because he was the crèche’s innovator.

Father Simeon said a report was filed with the First Precinct and detectives came to investigate. No reward is being offered, however.

Passersby last week were by turns shocked and saddened to see the missing sign in place of the Christ child.

Bernie Seeley, 75, a retired uniform cap maker, heard about it from his girlfriend, who lives on Thompson St., who had noticed the statue was gone while walking her dog.

“Boy, you got some people in this world,” he said. “I’m Jewish myself, but this is sacrilegious.”

“Where’s baby Jesus? In the stable…” said Zach Roberts, 25, a restaurant worker who lives on Kenmare St., expectantly as he moved past the shepherds on the scene’s east side.

Others looked, then just turned away quietly or with gentle smiles.

“They stole it,” said one man, as he walked off.

“Ohh!” sighed one woman.

“Isn’t that sad, though,” said another.

“My father’s house, they had a little Virgin Mary in front and they stole it,” recalled a Californian tourist.

Compounding the hurt, on Sunday as Father Simeon and other church officials were being interviewed by the New York Times for a story on the missing baby Jesus, a robber went into the church’s sacristy, or vestry changing room, behind the altar, and stole the contents of three women’s purses, including cash, credit cards and drivers’ licenses.

As opposed to the stealing of Jesus, this time Father Simeon suspects something, possibly an inside job, since the thief knew exactly where to go to grab the purses out of unlocked lockers.

“I think there’s some mischief here,” he said. They may have to start locking the lockers, he said. One of the members of the vestry saw the robber, he noted.

But there’s still no sign of Jesus.

“The baby is still gone,” said DiStefano. Referring to another infamous baby kidnapping, he added, “I feel like Captain Lindbergh.”


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