Catholic priest Tomy Kalathoor Matthew, 48, was stabbed in the neck at St Matthew’s Parish in Fawkner, Melbourne, Australia on 19 March Getty

A Catholic priest of Indian origin was stabbed in the neck by a man, believed to be Italian, when the former was leading a Sunday mass at a church in Melbourne, Australia. The attacker reportedly shouted that the priest was "unqualified" to offer a mass because he was an Indian.

The incident took place on Sunday morning (19 March) when a 72-year-old man, who was armed with a knife, approached Tomy Kalathoor Matthew in the church foyer minutes before the Italian- language Sunday service mass was about to begin at St Matthew's Parish in Fawkner, a suburb in Melbourne.

According to local media reports, the attacker apparently thought that since Matthew is an Indian, he must be a Hindu or a Muslim and hence he cannot offer mass. He reportedly stabbed Matthew a dozen times in the neck in front of the worshippers, in what is thought to be a racially motivated crime.

"There was some shouting and a lot of movement at the back of the church and then I saw Father Tommy coming to approach me. He waved me over and asked me if I could look at his neck because he said 'I've just been stabbed'," Hindustan Times newspaper cited Melina, one of the parishioners, as saying.

The attacker, who was reported to have soon fled the scene, was eventually arrested and charged with intentionally and recklessly causing injury. He was later released on bail but is expected to appear a local Magistrates' Court on 13 June, the Herald Sun reported.

The Melbourne police believe the incident is isolate. "There's nothing to suggest he's a danger to anyone else," detective senior constable Rhiannon Norton said.

The 48-year-old victim, who is a native of Kozhikode district, in southern Indian state of Kerala, is thought to be recovering from the wounds.

Spokesperson of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne Shane Healy said: "People should never be treated like this. 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."

A bishop from a Kerala-based diocese apparently spoke to the injured priest over the telephone.

"It 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," Abraham Kavilpurayidathil, chancellor and spokesperson of Thamarassery diocese, told TOI.