A billboard of Pope Francis with the word “welcome” has been stolen from in front of Sacred
Heart church in Ponsonby, Auckland.

The former billboard in front of Sacred Heart church, Ponsonby.

Parish pastoral coordinator Eddie Eyre said he last saw the billboard around 6pm on September 30.

“I always park my car in the church carport because I spend most of my time there,” he said. “I went down [at] a quarter to six to my car to go out for dinner, it was still there then.”

Mr Eyre said he went back to the church after dinner to do some preparations for a forthcoming funeral.

“I was in the church. I looked down straight and it wasn’t there. I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

It wasn’t the first time something had been stolen from the church, he added.

The previous week, the church’s laptop was stolen from the sacristy.

The taking of the billboard, however, was pre-meditated, Mr Eyre believed.

“It was heavy. No way one person could take it away. It wasn’t like they cut it down and left it. They need a truck to take it away,” he said.

He added that a power saw must have been used because there were burn marks on the wooden posts that held the billboard.

“It was a nice clean cut. They would have had to do it at night when it was dark,” he said.

It also  wasn’t the first time something had been done to the billboard.

“I had to replace it at one stage. It got defaced. Someone last year painted red ink on his eyes,” he said.

Mr Eyre said the billboard cost about $300 and was put up in front of the church about three years ago. People would always comment how welcoming it was and would take photos in front of the picture.

Mr Eyre said he had informed the parish priest, Fr Rory Morrissey, who was away on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje. The vandalism has been reported to the police.

Mr Eyre said the parish would likely be replacing the billboard, but it would wait for Fr Morrissey to make the final decision.

Auckland police acknowledged a complaint had been received relating to damage to a church sign in Ponsonby.

“Unfortunately there was no CCTV footage of the incident and police have had limited lines of enquiry to date,” a police spokesperson said.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800
555 111.