NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — A Newark bishop is recovering after being punched in the face during a disturbing attack that happened in the middle of Mass over the weekend.
About 100 parishioners were inside Sacred Heart Cathedral on Saturday afternoon for a Mass celebrating baseball player Roberto Clemente, a hero in the neighborhood.
Video shows Bishop Manuel Cruz leading prayers when a man dressed in white with a matching hat meanders toward the altar and swings at the bishop, punching him in the mouth and knocking him to the ground before he’s tackled by police.
“It was a very shocking and horrific moment,” said parishioner Mark Bonamo, who remembers watching the man step out of a middle pew, where he had been sitting alone. “As a former alter boy a lot of people thought, ‘Oh he might be part of Mass,’ but I myself thought it was little odd out of the gate, then when he walked up and hit the man in the face, people were shocked. Some people ducked, others screamed.”
On Monday night, the beloved bishop spoke with CBS2’s Valerie Castro.
“I am in pain. I’m a little frightened inside. I’m only a human being, but otherwise I am okay,” Bishop Cruz said.
Cruz has 30 stitches in his mouth after being punched during a service.
“Everybody started screaming out loud, and it was the most frightening thing you could ever see,” Evelyn Padin said.
Padin and her daughter were just a few rows from the altar.
“We all threw ourselves to the floor thinking something terrible had happened, and indeed it had,” she said.
Shocked parishioners helped the bishop as police subdued the suspect, CBS2’s Ali Bauman reported.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark says, “We certainly were surprised and saddened by it, and are thankful that things were not worse than they turned out to be.”
After the assault, Padin’s daughter Sophia wrote a letter to the bishop who baptized her.
“I pray for you and send hugs and kisses for a fast recovery. I also pray for the man that hurt you,” she wrote.
Bonamo says the bizarre attack has not deterred him from the cathedral, rather it’s bringing him closer.
“I’m going in right now. I’m going to say a ‘Hail Mary’ for Bishop Cruz, he deserves it,” Bonamo said.
The suspect, identified as Charles Miller, has been charged with assault and is due in court Tuesday.
“I went out and said ‘officer grab him, stop him,” Councilman Luis Quintana said. “But I couldn’t scream. I wanted to scream ‘bishop go down,’ but I just couldn’t, it was just too rapidly.”
Miller is known in the neighborhood and showed up about a half hour early to Saturday’s mass driving a pink Cadillac.
“When I was there earlier setting up, he was just sitting in the pew. he got up and left, and came back,” Raymond Tidwell said.
The bishop believes Miller suffers from a mental illness.
“You are our brothers and sisters and this man who came to the altar is my brother, and I’ve been praying for him,” he said.
He said he’s grateful to everyone who’s reached out to him since the attack, and also for the altar server who protected him in the moments after.
“When I was on that floor, thinking that I was going to die he came and held me, and told me, ‘father don’t go, I’m here,” he said.
Investigators are still trying to determine the motive for the attack.