A Belfast priest has been left shaken after being awoken to discover a man armed with a hatchet and a shovel in his parochial house.
Fr Patrick Devlin, parish priest of Ligoniel's St Vincent de Paul Church, was awoken by the noise of the intruder who gained entry through a window at around 2am yesterday.
The 53-year-old shouted out and when he looked out a bedroom window he saw the burglar fleeing from the house.
Keys for the priest's Audi A4 and a minibus used by the local parish were taken along with an undisclosed sum of money.
A number of rooms in the property were entered and items in them disturbed. The hatchet and shovel were recovered from the scene.
The suspect is described by police as being stocky or possibly wearing a heavily padded jacket. He also ran with a limp and was dressed in dark clothing. He was observed calling to a small, thin, dark dog that followed him up Ligoniel Road.
Sinn Fein councillor Ryan Murphy, who visited the scene yesterday, said it had been a terrifying experience for the priest and expressed his relief that he wasn't hurt in the incident.
"The thought that someone would break in in the early hours of the morning to steal valuables is disgusting," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"Breaking into someone's home is always traumatic for the victim, but it is even more shameful that anyone would target somewhere so widely used by the local community. People in the area are shocked and outraged by what has happened.
"Those responsible have really crossed a boundary by breaking into the grounds of a sacred place and that is deeply worrying.
"I am appealing to anyone with information on this incident to bring it to the police so these individuals can be taken off the streets."
Fr Devlin has been parish priest at Ligoniel since 2010 and is the chaplain responsible for the deaf community in the Down and Connor Diocese.
He had only returned from a weekend parish pilgrimage to Knock Shrine in Co Mayo just hours before the incident.
The priest was not available for interview yesterday, but a diocesan spokesperson confirmed that he had been left "very distressed and traumatised" by the experience.
"He has received many messages of support from parishioners, clergy, community representatives and members of the local community. He is assisting the PSNI with their investigations," they added.
"We would ask for continued vigilance within the community and encourage anyone who has information to bring it to the attention of the PSNI."
Police are appealing to anyone with information to phone 101 or the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.