CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand, continues to mourn the 50 people murdered at two mosques last Friday. Funerals of those killed began on Wednesday.
Police arrested Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian, who has been charged with murder. The deaths occurred at Al Noor mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre.
The first burial was of Khaled and Hamza Mustafa, father and son, who had arrived in New Zealand as refugees from Syria last year. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, said: “I cannot tell you how gutting it is to know that a family came here for safety and for refuge — and they should have been safe here.”
The Vicar of St Augustine’s, Christchurch, the Revd Matthew Ling, said on Wednesday: “There is a lot of healing that needs to take place. Christchurch is thought of as a resilient city; let’s hope it is.”
Mr Ling explained that the effects of the attack went further than the Muslim community. He said: “The attack has brought everything back up from the earthquake, which happened eight years ago; people are having their memories jogged with the sirens and the events, and they are experiencing new anxiousness and fear. The cumulative impact of disasters is accentuating the loss, and is hitting people harder. . .
“Christchurch is a really small city, and everyone will know someone who has been affected. Some of our neighbours wanted to stay at home on Saturday because they didn’t feel safe. People feel vulnerable, they feel scared — that isn’t just limited to the Muslim community, it resonates further than that.”
MATTHEW LINGA prayer vigil in Christchurch on Thursday
The Bishop of Ripon, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, who was formerly Bishop of Waikato in the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, said last Friday: “In some ways, there is a disbelief — there are no words, really. Given the small size of New Zealand, and given that it grounds itself on peace and justice, the impact of it is just heightened.”
She 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.”
Mr Ling echoed this: “New Zealand is a place people come to escape violence; they may have come here because it is a safe place. There is racism here, but it has been hidden, it has been subtle up to this point. It’s generally a safe, tolerant, welcoming place. People are asking ‘Why here? What have we done?’”
In his church, he said: “There is a sense of listening and coming alongside people. There are members of our church who have been working alongside those who have been affected in a professional capacity, whether that is in the emergency services or in counselling, so we are trying to support them.”
More widely, he said, “There is a lot of conversation among church leaders to make sure we give direct support to the Muslim community, to make sure they feel welcome here. One of the biggest things we can do is show solidarity. On Thursday evening, we will be holding a prayer vigil.
“Some churches are saying to the Muslim community that you can use our building to pray if it is needed.”
Speaking on Sunday, the Bishop of Christchurch, Dr Peter Carrell, told BBC Radio 4’s Sunday: “It was 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.”
Ms Ardern told schoolchildren at Cashmere High School, Christchurch, on Wednesday: “Yes, gather together, show those outpourings of love, but also let New Zealand be a place where there is no tolerance for racism ever. That’s something we can all do.”
Read more on the story from Paul Vallely, in our leader comment, and Andrew Brown’s press column