Church leaders say their “thoughts and prayers” are with a St Helens priest who was robbed in his own home last night.
Fr Peter Hannah, of Vincent de Paul Church, was attacked by three masked men - one of whom was brandishing a gun - and forced to hand over cash raised by the church for an orphanage in Zimbabwe.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Liverpool said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Father Peter Hannah who was not injured but left shaken by the events of yesterday evening.
“Such events are an attack on the whole of the worshipping community who in these last weeks have given of their time to raise money for an orphanage in Zimbabwe.
“The repercussions of this act will be felt far beyond the town of St Helens.”
Fr Hannah is a priest at St Anne and Blessed Dominic in Sutton, which is also the burial site of three of the Catholic faith’s most revered individuals; Blessed Dominic Barberi, Father Ignatius Spencer, and Elizabeth Prout.
He was targeted 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.
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.