Christchurch: the Call to Prayer and Compassion
On Friday, March 29, around 20,000 people gathered in Hagley Park in Christchurch. There were representatives of many faiths and many nations. They were there to remember the 50 victims who were killed in the attacks on mosques two weeks earlier. They were there to support the Muslim community and to support one another in a time of tragedy.
People bowed their heads as members of the Muslim faith and the Christchurch Interfaith Society read out the names of the victims. One of the survivors of the attack, Farid Ahmed, offered a prayer. He prayed for safety and security in New Zealand. He prayed for peace and happiness for people throughout the world.
A week before, there had been another gathering in the same park, which is near the Al Noor mosque. The call to prayer had been broadcast live on New Zealand radio and television. The imam, Gamal Fouda, had expressed the thanks of his community for the support that so many people had shown. “Thank you for your tears. Thank you for your flowers. Thank you for your love and compassion.”
The attacks at the mosques on March 15 had shocked people in New Zealand and people around the world. There was bitter grief at the loss of loved ones, shot dead as they were gathered for prayer in what should have been a place of safety and peace. It was truly a day of trauma. Yet in the days and weeks that followed, people showed extraordinary strength as they came together to support one another through their time of sorrow.
I see two key elements in those gatherings following the shootings. One element was prayer to God. The other was compassion for all who were suffering. Members of many faith communities joined the Muslim community in offering prayers for those who had died, for their family members who were left behind and for all those who were distressed by the attacks. They prayed for the gift of peace in their city and peace throughout the world. There was also a great outpouring of compassion for those who had suffered and a resolve to support one another in a time of crisis. People showed their support in the tears they shed, in the flowers they placed at the entrance to the mosques, and in many gestures of practical kindness to those in need.
The community in Christchurch has endured a time of darkness but there have also been rays of light piercing the gloom – light that has come through prayer to God and care for one another.
We will soon be celebrating Holy Week and Easter. In its own way, this is a celebration of darkness and light, the darkness of Christ’s suffering and death, the light of his rising to new life. As we celebrate these days, we could draw on the experience of the last few weeks in Christchurch. We too can find strength through prayer to God and care for one another.
The prophet Zechariah speaks of “a spirit of kindness and prayer” (Zechariah 12:10). I invite you to enter into Holy Week and Easter in this spirit. In a prayerful spirit and a spirit of compassion, reflect on the sufferings of Christ and the sufferings of people around the world today. And in that same spirit, pray that God will raise us up as God raised up Jesus. Pray that our whole community will come through times of sorrow and be blessed with the gift of peace.
Bishop Paul Bird CSsR