By Gina Christian
(OSV News) — An Illinois man accused of murdering a Palestinian boy and stabbing his mother because they were Muslim is a member of a local Catholic parish.
Joseph Czuba of Plainfield, Illinois, has been charged with killing 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume and injuring the child’s mother, 32-year-old Hanaan Shahin, in an Oct. 14 knife attack.
In an email to OSV News, the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, said it had confirmed Czuba and his wife are members of St. Mary Immaculate Parish in Plainfield.
St. Mary Immaculate’s pastor, Father Pat Mulcahy, told OSV News by email that “our hearts are absolutely broken, and ache for the family and all those affected.”
Czuba, the victims’ 71-year-old landlord, allegedly confronted his tenants Oct. 14, arguing with them over the Israel-Hamas war and demanding that they vacate their rental rooms.
According to prosecutors in Will County, Illinois, Czuba feared Shahin would rally her family and friends to attack him and his wife amid the war.
Court documents state that Shahin — who described her landlord as an angry man — had tried to calm Czuba just prior to the attack by urging him to pray for peace in Israel. In response, Czuba stabbed her a dozen times and her son 26 times with a military-style knife. The documents also noted that Czuba’s wife told investigators Czuba “listens to conservative talk radio on a regular basis.”
Czuba now faces multiple charges, including first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, aggravated battery and hate crimes.
The Chicago FBI Field Office, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois have opened a federal investigation.
President Joe Biden denounced the crime in an Oct. 15 statement, saying he and first lady Jill Biden were “sickened” by the crime, describing it as a “horrific act of hate” that “stands against our fundamental values: freedom from fear for how we pray, what we believe and who we are.”
“The entire community is grieving this situation,” said Father Mulcahy. “Plainfield is a multiethnic community, and we are all affected by this tragedy.”
He said the 6,000-family parish would hold a Holy Hour for peace and justice Oct. 17 in response to an earlier call for prayer for peace issued by Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem.
“We as a parish call on everyone, all people of every faith and people of goodwill, to unite in prayer and come to realize that we need the lasting peace that our God longs to provide,” Father Mulcahy said.
In its statement, the Diocese of Joliet said its “entire … faith community offers our prayers and condolences for Wadea Al-Fayoume, his family and friends, and all those affected by his death. As facts of this tragedy unfold, we also hold his mother Hanaan Shahin in our prayers for healing from her injuries. As a society, let us strive to reject hatred and violence in all forms, and look for ways to promote justice, peace, and healing for all.”