A Catholic priest forgives the person who stole a beloved tapestry blessed by St. John Paul II — but he would still like the artwork back.

The tapestry is a 4-by-6-foot depiction of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” The Rev. Jim Keiter bought it in Rome and had it blessed by the pope during an audience in 2000.

It was among Keiter’s possessions packed in a trailer for a move to Fordyce, in northeast Nebraska. The 41-year-old priest will become the new pastor of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Fordyce.

“That passage in the Our Father, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,’ has taken on additional meaning for me,” Keiter said.

A friend, Jason Siemer, had lent Keiter the trailer and a pickup for the move from St. Patrick Parish in Fremont to Fordyce. The truck and trailer, packed with most of the priest’s worldly goods, were parked at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Omaha, where he is helping out before his move next week.

“I was on my way to say 9 o’clock Mass Sunday when I noticed the truck and trailer were missing,” Keiter said. “I called 911 and Father Carl Salanitro took over (at Mass), and that was probably God at work because it allowed me to calm down and reflect on the incident.”

Keiter said the tapestry is the only irreplaceable item among his stolen belongings. He still has a number of other keepsakes that were blessed by the pope, who was canonized a saint in April.

“I don’t know how families who have their homes broken into deal with these situations because I felt violated, and it was just a truck and trailer.”

Police called to say the truck, which had been hot-wired, was found the next day near Underwood, Iowa, along with the trailer. The tapestry and a few items that could be sold or pawned are still missing, but Keiter’s furniture and most of his possessions were safe, including a safe.

“I use the safe to hold my chalices, and I had removed them because I didn’t want them rattling around,” he said. “The thief probably thought he had something there.”

Keiter, who was ordained in 2001, said the tapestry has been part of every stop in his career. It adorned a wall in the cafeteria at the now-closed St. Peter Claver Cristo Rey High School near 36th and Q Streets, where he served as school president.

He hopes someone will see the picture of the tapestry and contact police. The thief could even return the tapestry or leave it somewhere safe — no questions asked, he said.

“The whole experience, for me, probably means forgiveness and understanding,” Keiter said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s OK to steal, but my choice is to not let anger and bitterness build in my heart.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1272, kevin.cole@owh.com

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