An Antioch church community is experiencing a real-life lesson in forgiveness -- again.
For the fourth time in the past two months, St. Ignatius of Antioch Catholic Church says it has been targeted by copper burglars. The latest theft, on Thursday, left the parish without power and again facing thousands of dollars in repairs.
Thieves stole about 500 yards of copper wiring from a conduit outside the church at 5:15 a.m. Thursday, according to church members. The church called Antioch police about the burglary and was told to file a report online, which administrators say they did.
"It's really hard for this church community to handle," said the Rev. Robert Rien, the church's parochial administrator. "I just preached a homily about forgiveness this past Sunday; it feels like we're really being tested."
"We're getting a taste of living our own Gospel," agreed parishioner Maryann Peddicord, while trying to piece together fliers for a special weekend service.
Thursday's theft brought to a temporary halt preparation for a weekend Mass honoring East Contra Costa police officers and firefighters and those who died in the 9/11 attacks. The service, expected to draw about 300 to 500 people, will go on, Rien said.
Parishioner Rich Confetti hooked up temporary computer service by running an extension cord into the building.
"At first we get mad about it, but we refuse to let it beat us down. We just have to pick up the pieces and roll on," Confetti said.
The theft also damaged the church's copier and printer and closed the church's administrative offices because of the loss of electricity.
St. Ignatius has been targeted by thieves several times over the past few years, including in 2008 when Rien's one-of-a-kind chalice made of Norwegian silver and his parents' wedding rings were stolen. Thieves also stole landscaping from a parking lot refurbishment last year.
St. Ignatius recruits parishioners to patrol the church parking lot during Sunday liturgies to keep an eye on cars and deter would-be burglars.
Since mid-July, thieves have stolen seven air conditioning units, five outdoor security cameras and about 1,000 yards of copper wiring, Rien said.
Thursday's burglary was almost identical to an Aug. 27 theft that left the church dark hours before weekend services.
The church has asked the city for permission to put a fence with an electric gate around the perimeter of the 8-acre property facing Contra Loma Boulevard. The church is also looking at putting all of its power lines underground.
"In my almost 40 years being ordained, I never thought I'd have to deal with something like this," Rien said.
Mike Brown, spokesman for the Diocese of Oakland, said there is no trend among Catholic churches in the East Bay having copper stolen multiple times.
Vallejo's Union Baptist Church has been hit twice in three weeks by thieves removing its four security cameras, church leaders said this week.
Other groups in Antioch have been the target of copper thieves recently.
Rich Cervantez, president of Antioch's Babe Ruth League, said thieves recently stole rolls of wire used for baseball field lights and a snack bar three times in two weeks.
Almost $2,000 in repairs were made quickly so that the winter baseball season would not delayed, he said.
The (Vallejo) Times-Herald contributed to this report. Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.