CHURCH leaders have expressed shock and disbelief at the killing of 50 people in attacks at two mosques during Friday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Another 48 people are being treated for gunshot wounds after what the country’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”.
A man in his late 20s has been charged with murder, and two others arrested at the scene are being investigated. The deaths occurred at Al Noor mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre, police said.
One of the alleged gunmen has Australian citizenship, the Prime Minister of Australia, Australia, Scott Morrison, has said. He labelled it a “right-wing extremist attack”.
Ms Ardern said: “Many directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand; they may even be refugees here. . . They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not.” She also called it a “terrorist attack”.
The Bishop of Ripon, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, who was formerly Bishop of Waikato in the Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia, said on Friday morning: “In some ways, there is a disbelief — there are no words, really. Given the small size of New Zealand, and give that it grounds itself on peace and justice, the impact of it is just heightened.”
Speaking on Sunday, The Bishop of Christchurch, the Rt Revd Peter Carrell, told BBC Radio 4's Sunday: “It’s shattering talking to people at the victim support centre yesterday. . . people were coming from countries where they felt unsafe to the country they thought was the safest in the world. It feels like it no longer is, and that must be deeply disturbing for many people, but also deeply disturbing for every New Zealander.
“The events of Friday means we must have the parallels [between communities] that have perhaps been missing. In practical terms, I think that we probably need a set of meals together in Christchurch where leaders get together and talk about issues of common concern.”
In a statement on Friday, he had said: “Church leaders are absolutely devastated at the unprecedented situation in Christchurch this afternoon, and our hearts and prayers go to all involved. No religious organisation or group deserves to be the target of someone’s hate — regardless of beliefs.
“We stand for an Aotearoa New Zealand which will never condone such violence. So, across the churches of Christchurch and Canterbury, we are praying for our Muslim brothers and sisters; for those injured and those who have lost loved ones; for the police, ambulance and other emergency services; and for all in the city of Christchurch who are feeling distress and fear due to this event.”
He went on: “We pray, too, for the shooter and their supporters, because for any person to do this, they must have such hatred in their hearts, such misalignment of the value of human life, that they, too, need our prayer.”
Dr Hartley said that New Zealand “gives room for diversity, and prides itself on that: it prides itself on being a place where people can be welcomed.
”In every respect, this is a tragedy. We should pray for the people of New Zealand, but especially communities around Christchurch that have suffered so much in recent years.” In 2010 and 2011, Christchurch experienced severe earthquakes.
The Archbishop of Canterbury posted on Twitter: “Profound sympathy for the victims and relatives of the New Zealand terrorism. Let all Christians pray for healing of people, interfaith relations and New Zealand itself. Jesus calls us to welcome strangers and love our neighbour however different.”
The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, has written to Muslim leaders in the city to assure them of the “love and support of the Christian community”. He wrote: “We will not allow this sort of evil to destroy our friendship, and I know that all of us in the diocese will continue to stand with you and to work together with you for a community of peace and of mutual respect.”