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.

Assyrian Orthodox Bishop Mari Emmanuel, who rose to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic for his fiery YouTube sermons, was stabbed at 7:10 p.m. 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 and stabbing Bishop Emmanuel multiple times before congregants rushed up to stop the attack.

Terrified screams could be heard before the stream was ended and deleted.

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.

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.

Catholic Weekly photographer Giovanni Portelli was on the scene as the riot hit its peak and saw police, wielding shotguns and assault rifles, deployed to the church as tensions rose.
Batons and pepper spray were used to disperse the crowd around 10:15 p.m. 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.

New South Wales Premier Chris Minns confirmed the stabbing was a "terrorist act" April 16 after convening a council of religious and community leaders overnight to call for calm.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said at a press conference with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese the same day that police will allege the attack was "religiously motivated" and also called for calm.

Faith leaders worked hard to ease concerns in the community, with the Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney urging believers to respond with "prayer and peace" rather than fear or anger.

"Houses of prayer have traditionally been places of peace and solace, 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 archbishop said.

"The images of the violence that subsequently occurred outside the church are also confronting," he continued. "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.

"Every person in this country, 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."

Archbishop Fisher urged 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."

Fairfield-based Syriac Catholic priest Father Lenard Ina, a neighboring clergyman who knows Bishop Emmanuel well, said he will forgive his attacker.

"I think Bishop Mari will forgive the person who did this but will also expect him to be judged under the law," Father Ina told The Catholic Weekly. "I know his personality and I think he will use what has happened to him to show the face of Jesus."

Bishop Robert Rabbat of Australia's Melkite Greek Catholic Eparchy told The Catholic Weekly 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."

Overnight, Premier Minns had met with Christian and Muslim leaders, police, and government representatives, to issue a joint statement rejecting "violence in all its forms."

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.

The Australian National Imams Council likewise condemned the attacks as "horrifying" and having no place in Australia, "particularly at places of worship and toward religious leaders."

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."