Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher called the stabbing of Orthodox Assyrian Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel and Father Isaac Royel “shocking and has caused distress to many in the community.”

A 16-year-old boy stabbed and injured the two men at Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Sydney on Monday night. The attacker was arrested on Tuesday, and his victims are expected to survive.

Emmanuel was born in Iraq, and is known to preach Christianity to both Muslims and Jewish people.

“It does appear to be religiously motivated, but we continue our lines of investigation,” said Mike Burgess, the director general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), the nation’s main domestic spy agency.

“Our job is to look at individuals connected with the attacker to assure ourselves that there is no-one else in the community with similar intent. At this stage, we have no indications of that,” he said.

In a statement, Fisher said houses of prayer have traditionally been places of refuge and sanctuary, “and so the video footage of the attack upon a religious leader during a religious service inside a church has been especially confronting.”

“The images of the violence that subsequently occurred outside the church are also confronting,” the archbishop said.

We have seen these types of events in other countries but, up until now, Australia has been largely free from this type of blatant violence in and around places of worship,” he continued.

Maronite Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, head of the Catholic Maronite Eparchy of Australia, said they “unequivocally denounce violence in all its forms and expresses deep concern over the incidents” that took place Monday night.

“We call on everyone to remain calm, refrain from resorting to violence or retaliatory behaviors, and engaging in gossip and speculation,” he said in a statement.

“As a community we must work together to de-escalate tensions and I ask everyone to heed the calls of our governments and NSW Police, exercise prudence and follow police direction,” the bishop added.

“We are reassured that Mar Mari Emmanuel and all those injured are in stable condition. We fervently pray for their complete healing and recovery, and I will be reaching out to check on their wellbeing,” Tarabay said.

“Please join me in continued prayer for everyone impacted and for our state. It is imperative that we continue to work together to foster peace and to actively strive to be peacemakers. May the love of our Lord Jesus Christ guide our actions as we navigate through these challenging times,” he said.

The teenager who attacked the prelates had been convicted in January of a range of offenses including possession of a switch blade knife, being armed with a weapon with an intention to commit an indictable offence, stalking, intimidation and damaging property, Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

In response to the attack, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said “there is no place for violence in our community. There’s no place for violent extremism.”

In his statement, Fisher said every person in Australia – “be they bishop or priest, rabbi or imam, minister or congregant” – should be able to worship in safety, without fear that they might be subject to acts of violence while gathering in prayer.

“I urge the faithful to not respond to these events with fear, avoiding places of worship because they are worried about further attacks, nor with anger, engaging in acts of reprisal or revenge. The best response to violence and fear is prayer and peace,” the archbishop added.

“On behalf of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, and in solidarity with other religious leaders, I offer prayerful support to Bishop Emmanuel, Father Royel and all others affected. May the God of peace reign in our land,” he said.

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