2006-06-30 / Front Page

Far Rockaway Church Is Thief's 'Prey'

By Brian Magoolaghan

The pastor of a Far Rockaway church that was robbed last week told The Wave that the members of his church will say prayers for the troubled thief who stole donation money and damaged property in the process.

"I asked people to pray," said Father Jim Cunningham, pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea church in Far Rockaway. "Obviously [the person responsible] is in some sort of crisis or need."

The thief struck the church sometime between 10 p.m. last Thursday night and 7 a.m. last Friday morning. There was hundreds of dollars in damage to doors and locks, and the thief broke into three candle boxes where donations are deposited. The boxes contained a total of about $100 in cash, Cunningham estimated.

The sticky-fingered intruder also tried unsuccessfully to break into a display case containing religious items for sale, which is located in the church's "cry room," a small area off to the side where parents can take babies to avoid disrupting services.

Police began an investigation on the morning the break-in was discovered, which included dusting the church for fingerprints. So far no arrest has been made, but Cunningham said "the response from the police has been terrific." He was set to meet with the Commanding Officer of the 101 Precinct, Captain Brian P. McMahon, on Thursday.

Cunningham said the incident was particularly disturbing because the building is home to five other priests, who could have become involved in a confrontation with the thief. He also spoke of Far Rockaway's community of people in need, and said the break-in would not alter the "open door policy" of the church.

"It kind of scares you, but I don't want to lock the doors," Cunningham said. "I always like the idea of the church being open during the day."

The thief gained access to the church garden through gates that were left unlocked by air conditioner repairmen, he said. The individual then entered the church by breaking the lock on a sliding glass door.

Last week's robbery marks the second time the church was robbed in recent history - and both incidents were within weeks of one another. Cunningham said someone broke into the rectory though a back door June 9 and stole a laptop computer, cell phone, video camera and 35mm camera from Father Emmanuel Okpalauwaekwe. Parishioners responded then by raising about $700 to help him replace the personal items.

Anyone with information about either break-in is asked to call the 101 Precinct Detective Squad at (718) 868-3428.

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