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Church leaders offer prayer and solidarity after New Zealand mosque attacks leaves 49 dead

Posted on: March 15, 2019 10:10 AM
A still taken from a Sky News television report showing the police response to the terror attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand
Photo Credit: Sky News

Anglican archbishops in New Zealand, Australia and England have spoken out after gunmen attacked two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. At 9 pm Friday NZDT (8 am GMT), the official death toll from the terror attacks stood at 49 people with another 39 being treated in Christchurch Hospital. New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush told a press conference that 41 people were killed at the al-Noor mosque on Deans Avenue; and seven at the Linwood Islamic Centre on Linwood Avenue. Another person died at Christchurch Hospital.

The City of Christchurch was put on lockdown after news of the attacks emerged at around 1.40 pm NZDT (12.40 am GMT). Four people have been arrested. One, a man in his twenties described as a white supremacist, has been charged with murder and will appear in court tomorrow (Saturday). One armed man arrested near the scene has been ruled out of involvement. Police are continuing to investigate whether two other people arrested at the scene with firearms were involved in the attacks.

The Bishop of Christchurch, Peter Carrell, issued a statement on behalf of the leaders of churches in Christchurch city and Canterbury province. “Church leaders are absolutely devastated at the unprecedented situation in Christchurch this afternoon and our hearts and prayers go to all involved,” the statement said. “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.

“We are upholding you all in our prayers. 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. We thank many others from around our nation and the world who are praying for peace in Christchurch.”

In a separate letter, addressed to “Dear Friends”, Bishop Peter offered his personal response, writing: “the tragic violence this afternoon in Christchurch – an ongoing situation as I write – will already be a matter for prayer for you.

“Let’s pray and continue praying for those who have been injured, for those who care for them, for those who are sorrowing and for our police and other services who are working hard and bravely to bring this shocking event to a peaceful end.

“We understand that some of the central city churches are opening up their doors for prayer, once they are able to do so safely. We have heard that All Souls’ Merivale will be doing so.

Many of us will have family and friends who have been affected by the disruption to central Christchurch, some of whom may still be in a “lock-down” situation. Prayer for our inner Christchurch city ministers (all denominations), our schools, our hospitals and our chaplains would be much appreciated.

“Especially, let’s pray for the Muslim community of Christchurch who appear to be the single community most affected by the shootings.”

The Christchurch Inner-City Christian Ministers’ Association, an ecumenical association which unites the leaders of 10 Christian churches in Christchurch City Centre, including Christ Church Cathedral, published a letter “to the Muslim Community of Christchurch.”

In it they say: “In the face of today’s horrific shooting, the combined inner-city Christian ministers and their congregations wish to extend our love to the wider Muslim Community of Christchurch and assure them of our friendship and support at this time of great loss.

“Be assured of our continuing prayers as our joint city community and people struggle to understand what has happened in the wake of this unconscionable act. As members of two faith traditions, born out of a shared Abrahamic inheritance, we stand in solidarity with you. Looking, and crying, to God, the source of all.

“Peace be with you.”

The two New Zealand-based Primates of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Archbishops Philip Richardson and Don Tamihere, issued a joint statement saying that they were “shocked at the appalling and horrific acts of violence that occurred in Christchurch today.”

They add: “We feel utterly saddened for those who have lost their lives, and for their families and loved ones who mourn them. Indeed, we mourn with them as fellow citizens and members of the same human whānau [extended family], and we utterly condemn the despicable and cowardly acts of violence that took their lives.

“The freedom of worship and religious life is an absolute right to all in this land. We choose to stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters and support their continued and inalienable right to live and worship here in peace.

“All of us who live here in Aotearoa New Zealand must stand in solidarity in the face of such evil – and we call upon Anglicans throughout Aotearoa New Zealand to uphold all those affected in prayer, and to respond to this act by rejecting the rhetoric of hatred and religious intolerance, and to show compassion and kindness to all our neighbours who wish to live here in peace.”

The Precentor of St Paul’s Cathedral in Wellington, Canon Simon Winn, has prepared a set of prayers and liturgy that can be used by churches on Sunday in response to what is the worst mass shooting in New Zealand’s history. In it, he acknowledges that “It can be very difficult to know what or how to pray in the wake of a terrorist attack.”

The Anglican Assistant Bishop of Wellington, Dr Eleanor Sanderson, and local Roman Catholic Priest Father Ron Bennett, Christian co-chairs of the interfaith group the Wellington Abrahamic Council of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, led a small group of church representatives to the headquarters of the Federation of Islamic associations of New Zealand (FIANZ), which is based in the city’s Kilbirnie Mosque.

In a statement, the group said that it: “condemns the violence against the Muslim Community in Christchurch today. While the situation is still unfolding, it is clear that many innocent people have been killed – may they rest in peace.

“The Jewish and Christian communities send love and support to our Muslim brothers and sisters.

“Such deadly violence aimed at religious people has been unknown in New Zealand – until now, and has no place in our normally peaceful country. Now is the time to stand together, support our Muslim friends, and most importantly, keep talking and keep working to better understand each other.”

Responding to the church leaders visit, the Chief Executive of FIANZ, Sultan Eusoff, said: “We want to thank you all for your prayers and coming here today. It’s important we stay together at this time of sadness. It’s good to know we have friends supporting us in all of this.

“By and large New Zealanders of all walks of life have shared their lives with us and we live happily together. Most importantly we must remain united and are glad of people of other faith groups coming together with us and praying for us, which brings us great solace and comfort at this time. ”

Anglican leaders outside New Zealand have also responded to the attack. The Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Archbishop Philip Freier, said that “Acts of brutality like the outrage in Christchurch offend the decency of our common humanity.

“Our hearts go out to all who grieve or have been traumatised. Australia and New Zealand are closely bound by history, geography and heritage, and Australians know how appalled the people of New Zealand are at such awful mass murder in their country.

“We pray for all who suffer.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, responded to the attack in a Tweet, in which he expressed his “profound sympathy for the victims and relatives of the New Zealand terrorism.”

He added: “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.”