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Stabbed Sydney bishop is a TikTok star beloved by his community

Published 16/04/2024, 08:37
© Reuters. Flowers are laid outside the Assyrian Christ The Good Shepherd Church in support of Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel who is recovering after a knife attack took place during a service the night before, in Wakely in Sydney, Australia, April 16, 2024. REUTERS/Jaimi

By Lewis Jackson

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel who was stabbed during a church service live streamed from Sydney on Monday is a social media star with followers around the world, but the bearded clergyman is also a divisive preacher.

Dressed in dark robes, clutching a large cross and sporting a bushy grey beard under a black cowl, Emmanuel's sermons from the Assyrian Christ The Good Shepherd Church range from homilies on the Bible to fiery criticisms of homosexuality, COVID vaccinations, Islam and U.S. President Joe Biden's election.

The 53-year-old bishop, who has a popular youth following on TikTok and was awarded by YouTube in 2023 for hitting 100,000 subscribers, has been a target for criticism, hate and online trolling.

On Monday night a male teenager stabbed him and other worshippers with a knife during a sermon at the Assyrian Christ The Good Shepherd Church in western Sydney.

Footage posted online showed the attacker criticising Emmanuel's comments about Islam while pinned to the ground by the congregation. Police said on Tuesday it was a terrorist attack motivated by suspected religious extremism.

In some sermons posted online and shared widely, Emmanuel questions parts of Islamic theology, although in others he stresses his love for the Muslim community and how he regularly prays for them. In a recent post he expressed support for Palestinians in Gaza.

"He's not saying your religion is rubbish, he's just proving them wrong and very well articulated to the point where it gets under their skin ... the only way you can bring him down is through physical violence," said Manuka, 20, a local resident who follows Emmanuel on TikTok.

In other sermons Emmanuel took aim at the secular world, casting doubt on Biden's election, attacking his support for gay rights and urging Trump to stay true to God and resist the influence of Freemasons.

Emmanuel's popularity peaked during the COVID pandemic because his sermons were online, according to Mary Anoya, 17, whose family attends his church. She, like the other students at her high school, prefer to watch his sermons on TikTok.

"I think everyone follows him on TikTok," said Anoya on Tuesday outside the church.

"Ever since he started to become famous his words just got twisted. I grew up knowing who he was, I know what type of person he is and it's all just taken out of context."

Residents who spoke with Reuters said the violent outrage that followed the attack on Emmanuel, which saw an angry crowd throw rocks and bricks at police, reflected fears about religious persecution by many in the community which is popular with Christians from Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon, some of whom fled their homeland because of their faith.

© Reuters. Police investigate at the Assyrian Christ The Good Shepherd Church after a knife attack took place during a service the night before, in Wakely in Sydney, Australia, April 16, 2024. REUTERS/Jaimi Joy

"We've been persecuted for generations," said Chris, who asked for his last name not to be used for fear of retribution.

"Enough is enough, a priest can't be touched. I'm not speaking about retaliation but the Australian government must play a role so no persecution is tolerated."

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