An Indian priest is recovering after being stabbed moments before the start of a Catholic church service in Australia.
The attack against Rev. Tomy Kalathoor Mathew reportedly took place in front of parishioners on Sunday at St. Matthew’s Parish in Fawkner, a suburb of Melbourne.
Local media reports suggest the suspect was displeased that a priest of Indian heritage was conducting the Italian-language Mass. The suspect reportedly claimed that because Mathew was of Indian heritage, he must be a Hindu or a Muslim.
The Age reports that the suspect had tried to get in touch with the priest before the attack. He was not a member of the parish.
The 72-year-old suspect fled the scene after stabbing Rev. Mathew in the neck.
Leonie Johnson, a spokesperson for the Victoria Police, confirmed to The Huffington Post that “A man has been charged in relation to the stabbing and the matter is now before the courts.” Johnson was unable to provide further details.
According to a press release from Victoria police, the suspect was charged with intentionally and recklessly causing injury to the priest. The suspect has been released on bail and is due to appear in court on June 13.
In a news report, the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne announced that Mathew was in stable condition as of Monday morning. But the attack had left many parishioners “shocked.”
“This is appalling behaviour and people should never be treated like this,” said Shane Healy, Media and Communications director at the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne. “This fellow is doing wonderful work for his parishioners and this is really a blight on the great work that many, many Catholic priests are doing.”
Abraham Kavilpurayidathil, a spokesperson for the Thamarassery diocese, told the Times of India that the incident was a “miraculous escape.”
“Tomy Kalathoor Mathew said that he could escape from the knife attack only due to God’s grace as he had worn special robes for the mass in addition to thick clothes. The knife didn’t go deep and just injured the neck muscles,” Kavilpurayidathil said.
Christianity is a minority religion in India, making up about 2.3 percent of the total Indian population, according to India’s 2001 census. The number of Christians is relatively high in Kerala, coming in at about 18 percent. There’s also plenty of diversity within Indian Christianity ―with denominations influenced by Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, Anglicanism, Pentecostalism, and other Christian traditions.