Catholics in northwest Auckland are grieving over the apparent theft of a statue of the Virgin Mary from the grounds of their church.
The religious statue, estimated to stand 1.2m tall and filled with concrete, was wrenched out of its stone-arched grotto at St Joseph's in Helensville, some time between last night and this morning.
"That's the first thing they saw when they opened the church for Mass, they were so shocked it was gone," parish priest Fr Alfonso Dujali said of parishioners who first noticed the statue's absence.
"Every Sunday they would go and see their statue; they're devastated."
The theft was reported to the police just after 11.30am today, the police said.
Deacon Hans Flapper said the statue, originally from India, was given to the church some years ago by the parish priest at the time.
"It was given to us by a priest from India who got it from his father."
It was inside the church until 2014, when it was mounted in the grotto.
"It was hollow," Dujali said. "When we put it in the grotto it was filled with concrete, to be heavier. It was fastened with cement - they have destroyed the foundation."
Flapper said of Mary, "She's very special to us, especially at this time of Advent, which is just before Christmas."
Parishioners would pray and contemplate at the grotto.
Dujali added, "Maori people from different places would drop by and put flowers in it, they are very attached to it - local people as well would always put flowers and light a candle in it. It's very sad."
Helensville resident Guy Hollister, who described himself as non-religious, said he and many other local people were upset by what appeared to be another act of vandalism to hit the area.
"There's been a lot of senseless, aimless crime recently," he said, citing the damage done to street signs, a lover's graffiti, and the theft of a statue of Buddha.
Dujali appealed for the thieves to return his church's Mary.
"There are some instances in New Zealand of things like that being returned. I'm still hoping for it, I still pray that we can get it back."