Ottawa police are investigating after thieves broke into and vandalized the St. Martin de Porres church in Bells Corners and stole the tabernacle that houses the communion wafers.

Police said the incident happened early Thursday morning at the church on Old Richmond Road.

St. Martin de Porres church

The vandalism and theft occurred early Thursday morning according to Ottawa police. (CBC)

Police say a nearby resident was awoken by a noise late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning and saw three males near the church.

The thieves also smashed doors, jars and statues and wrote what police called anti-Christian graffiti.

Parishioners attended a special service Friday morning.

Father Jeffrey Kerslake, the Episcopal vicar for pastoral services with the Catholic Archdiocese of Ottawa said the community is rallying around the church since the incident.

"This is the first time someone has broken in for something other than a stereo system or to look for money in the poor box," said Kerslake. "This is something that hasn't happened in a very long time and it is also what makes it so shocking and so saddening for us."