Italian police have recovered a relic stained with the blood of Pope John Paul II after thieves took it from a church in the Abruzzo region of Italy.

Speculation that the theft was carried out by a "Satanic" group began circulating when the burglary was reported at the remote Church of St Peter of Ienca. Several objects were reported missing, including a gold and glass container which held a bloodstained fragment of cloth worn by Pope John Paul II when he was hit by a would-be assassin's bullet in St Peter's Square in 1981.

The cloth was donated to the church in 2011 by Stanislaw Dzuwicz, a Polish cardinal and the former secretary of John Paul II.

Fifty Carabinieri patrolled the area around the church with dogs and found the relic in a garage. Three men, including the owner of the garage, were arrested.

Two suspects were described as drug addicts in their 20s, who were known to the police for petty crimes. They told officials that they did not know the value of the items they were accused of taking.

Police were reportedly still searching for gold fragments missing from the vial.

Bishop Giovanni D'Ercole said: "I think John Paul has forgiven [the suspects]. I think we have to do the same."

A small crucifix was also taken during the burglary and that has also been found and returned. News of the theft came as the Vatican prepared to canonise John Paul II, along with another former pope, John XXIII, at a ceremony in April.

Reportedly, Pope John Paul II was very fond of the region around the Church of St Peter. He used to spend holidays in the local mountains, where he would walk, meditate and ski at the resort of Campo Imperatore.