A St Helens priest was robbed at gunpoint by three raiders who then stole cash the church had been raising for an orphanage.
The gang targeted the priest at his residence in Parr at around 6.25pm on Tuesday.
They then took him hostage, marching him to the nearby Vincent de Paul Church on Derbyshire Hill Road, Parr.
Once there they demanded he hand over a quantity of cash from the church’s safe, including money being raised for an orphanage, before escaping on foot.
The priest, who has not been named, was uninjured.
Detectives are now examining CCTV from the area.
All three suspects are white, aged between 17 and 21 and had their faces covered.
Det Sgt Chris Burrows, from St Helens CID, said: “I am sure the people of St Helens will be shocked and saddened to discover the church has been targeted in this way.
“It is a focal point for many in our community, particularly at this time of year, and it is heart-breaking to think the offenders have taken money which we understand was a charitable collection intended for a children’s orphanage.
“While he was thankfully not injured this would have been a very frightening incident for the priest.
“I would like to reassure people who live locally that we are doing everything we can to trace the offenders. Religious leaders provide an invaluable service in our local communities and I would urge anyone who lives locally and has any information which could help us with our enquiries to call us.”
Witnesses should call St Helens CID on 0151 777 6811.