Religious, civic leaders urge calm after Sydney stabbings

18 Apr 2024

By Contributor

By Marilyn Rodrigues

National Stabbing Attacks 2024
A view of a police car outside Westfield Bondi Junction as the Australian mall remains under lockdown following Saturday’s stabbings in Sydney April 14, 2024. Photo: OSV News/Alasdair Pal, Reuters.

Australian religious and political leaders have called for calm and unity after the attempted murder of an Assyrian Orthodox clergyman at his church’s altar in Sydney’s western suburbs, just days after a separate knife attack claimed six lives in Sydney’s Bondi Junction mall.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference offered its prayers and condolences in the wake of the Bondi Junction attack.

Assyrian Orthodox Bishop Mari Emmanuel, who rose to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic for his fiery YouTube sermons, was stabbed at 7.10 pm April 15 at the altar of Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley, an independent church he established in 2015.

In a now-removed livestream, a man in dark clothing could be seen approaching the altar, stabbing Assyrian Orthodox Bishop Emmanuel multiple times before congregants rushed up to stop the attack.

The 16-year-old attacker was quickly restrained by the congregation, some of whom were injured in the attempt.

The attacker in turn suffered severe injuries from the angry crowd that quickly formed, with police later confirming social media photos and rumors that at least one of his fingers was severed.

A screenshot from a livestream video shows a man attacking Assyrian Orthodox Bishop Mari Emmanuel at the altar of Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley, a western suburb of Sydney, April 15, 2024. Photo: OSV News screenshot/via The Catholic Weekly.

Paramedics treated Bishop Emmanuel at the scene, later taking him to Liverpool Hospital where he was reportedly recovering well from non-life-threatening injuries.

New South Wales Police said the attacker had been restrained prior to their arrival and was arrested and taken to an “undisclosed location.”

An estimated 2,000 men quickly converged on the church after the attack, with police responding by deploying the riot squad.

Batons and pepper spray were used to disperse the crowd around 10.15 pm.

Two police officers were injured, after being hit with bricks, fence pickets and other debris, and several police cars were destroyed.

Members of the community were still cleaning up broken glass, smashed cars and debris the following morning, with the church closed.

Speaking about the Bondi Junction stabbings prior to the incident with the Assyrian Bishop, Australia Catholic Bishops Conference President, Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, said it was a time of mourning for all Australians.

“We should all remember in our prayers those who are being treated in hospital and the souls of those who have died,” Archbishop Costelloe said.

“We pray for the family and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured.

“And we pay tribute to the police, paramedics, store staff and shoppers who showed courage and compassion in the face of traumatic circumstances.”

Archbishop Costelloe urged anyone impacted by the attack to reach out and seek support.

“May those who mourn know the consolation and comfort of God’s love.”

Police secure at the crime scene after Assyrian Orthodox Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel was stabbed at the altar of Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley, Sydney’s western suburbs, April 15, 2024. Photo: OSV News/Giovanni Portelli, The Catholic Weekly.

Australian Melkite Bishop Robert Rabbat said that many people in Sydney’s multicultural community have come from places where innocent people, including priests, were killed in churches, “which is always hard to comprehend.”

“Especially from Iraq, but also Syria, Lebanon and other places where they were hurt and were happy to come here, where it is safe to practice their faith with their leaders,” he said.

The bishop said some members of his own church were wondering whether their houses of prayer would remain oases of peace in Australia.

“We also have to try to understand the people who were praying with Mar Mari Emmanuel or waiting to listen to his spiritual talk,” he added.

“When you see someone who is dear to you or who you look up to suddenly being attacked, unfortunately sometimes the emotions make you behave in a way you usually would not, especially as some people may have witnessed something overseas and the images come back to mind.”

Maronite Catholic Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, leader of Sydney’s large Maronite community, attended the meeting and also called for continued prayer and restraint in a separate statement.

“On behalf of the Maronite Eparchy of Australia, we unequivocally denounce violence in all its forms and express deep concern over the incidents that took place last night in Wakeley,’ said.

Bishop Emmanuel was a bishop of the Assyrian Ancient Church of the East, before establishing Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Wakeley, and is no longer listed among the clergy of the Assyrian Church’s Archdiocese of Australia, New Zealand and Lebanon.

A statement from the church April 16 said, “We are taught to honor the image of God, not through vengeance and justice, but in adopting the spirit of humility, love and peace.”