BRISTOL — The news took Father Henry Zinno by surprise.
The pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church was preparing dinner at the rectory on Tuesday, Oct. 8, when his assistant pastor, Father Stephen Battey, told him that he was going next door to the church to offer some prayers before dinner.
Father Battey returned moments later with the bad news.
“The poor box is gone,” he told Father Zinno.
“Where did it go?” was his immediate response, not thinking at first that their church in the quiet bayside hamlet could have been burglarized.
“Somebody stole it, it’s gone, it’s off the wall,” Father Battey informed him.
So the two went over to the church and saw that the only vestiges of the receptacle that parishioners have long donated generously to in support of the church’s mission to help the poor were the square outline of where the poor box had been anchored to the back wall and some loose shards of plaster on the floor below.
Father Zinno then called Bristol Police and the church’s maintenance staff person, who recalled seeing some plaster dust on the floor as he locked up around 4 p.m., but hadn’t noticed the box higher up on the wall was missing.
The pastor said that with the church open all day long for people to come in and pray, the theft could have happened anytime between about 9:45 a.m. and 4 p.m. that day.
“The church is open all day and generally we have not had any problems,” Father Zinno said.
“Nobody has ever stolen the poor box before,” although about eight years ago someone pried it open with a candlestick, something being done in other churches at the time as well, he recalls.
The box is emptied each week, so Father Zinno surmises that whomever stole it could have made off with upwards of $50, money which the church uses to help the less fortunate.
“People come to our door and ask for help with food, or heating bills, or with prescription aid or gas in their car,” he said. “We’ll use the money to pay their bills, or we’ll give out gift certificates for a grocery store, but we don’t give out cash.”
The pastor said that his parishioners are very generous to the poor box so the parish is able to offer much assistance, albeit on a limited basis.
They are so generous in fact that a parishioner has offered to pay for a security camera to be placed above the box going forward.
Father Zinno said he planned to not replace the box through the weekend so that worshippers could see for themselves what had happened in their church.
“We hear the cries of the poor and we try to help out however we can,” he said.
“That this was stolen from the back of the church does not help us to help others. It hinders us. That’s what’s sad. The people of Mount Carmel are so generous, not just for the needs of the parish, but for the needs of others. They always have been.”