Melbourne church congregation resumes services after priest’s attack

MELBOURNE, Fla. — On Sunday, Melbourne police arrested a man who attacked a priest before pulling out a gun and threatening suicide.

Officers responded to a disturbance at the Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church on Guava Avenue around 7:45 a.m., police said.

According to police, the disturbance was between a church official and a known individual. That disturbance turned violent with the suspect beating one of the priests, police said.

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The suspect pulled out a firearm as police were arriving on scene, according to police. Officers distracted the suspect, allowing for church members to flee to safety.

Police said the suspect barricaded himself outside the front door of the church and threatened to harm himself.

After several hours, members of the crisis negotiation unit were able to negotiate and resolve this incident without further injury.

The suspect, Mark Patrick Soliman, was taken into custody without incident by members of the SWAT team.

Just a day after the attack, Father Rafael Kerelos was back in front of his parishioners, and thankful that no one was seriously injured.

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“First of all, I’m thanking God for my safety, the safety of the church, and the congregation.” Father Kerelos says. “And I would say I forgive him, for he is one of my congregation first.”

Father Kerelos says Soliman was a former member of the church and a friend.

“He was peaceful. He used to come to my house and eat with me and everything. We were close friends,“ Kerelos says.

More recently, for unknown reasons, Father Kerelos says Soliman began making calls using foul language, but never made any direct threats, until he showed up outside the church Sunday.

“He started to attack me to push me to get into his truck, but I was on the ground, and he was hitting me with is foot,” Father Kerelos recalls.

Father Kerelos says he hadn’t seen Soliman in church for 15 years before the incident Sunday.

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Soliman is being charged with armed kidnapping, aggravated assault, battery and resisting arrest. He’s been granted a $51,500 bond.

Police say Father Kerelos had been providing support to Soliman after her suffered a recent personal tragedy. He’s been ordered to stay away from the church.

“I forgive him for everything,” Father Kerelos says. “...looking for his safety, and being well, and let God do his will.”