Neighbours came together in solidarity in a special service in Ponsonby two days after the terrorist killings in Christchurch.

On Vermont Street, off Ponsonby Rd, the Catholic Sacred Heart parish church is directly across the road from the Al Jamie Mosque (Al-Masjid Al-Jamie). The two communities have been good neighbours for many years, with Muslims using Catholic carparks when they come for Friday prayers.

Bishop Patrick Dunn (right) walks across to Vermont St to the Al Jamie Mosque accompanied by Holy Cross Seminary rector Fr Brendan Ward and seminarians.

On March 17, in a packed-to-overflowing Sacred Heart church, people of many faiths gathered  —  Sikhs, ministers of Pacific Island churches, Catholics and others — all came to show solidarity with the local Muslim community. But in light of Friday’s events, armed police were stationed outside the church.

Bishop Patrick Dunn started by welcoming “our Muslim brothers and sisters — we want you to know that we love you, we care for you, we treasure you as fellow citizens and brothers and sisters in Aotearoa New Zealand”. But the bishop also referred to the “horrific and cowardly” attack in Christchurch, which has made this country “a land of heartbreak”.

Bishop Dunn read a message from Pope Francis. The bishop next prayed for those injured in Christchurch, those who died and those who had lost loved ones.

The service featured songs by a group from St Mary’s College, a reading from Scripture (the Beatitudes), psalms and hymns.

Muslim leaders also spoke.

Ikhlaq Kashkari of the New Zealand Muslim Association said he had received thousands of emails, phone message and texts, all expressing support in some way. He had not been able to answer most, but he appreciated their being sent.

“I don’t have any words to express the gratitude and thanks for all we have received from all walks of life in New Zealand. . . . As a community, we have really appreciated them.”

He said those who wanted to promote hatred and division, such as the Christchurch shooter, had only succeeded in bringing the communities closer together.

“What I am asking my community and I am asking all of you — I know we are grieving and I know we have a lot of pain. We have a choice how we direct that pain.”

He said hate would only generate hate. Love is the right response.

“Humanity comes before anything else.”

Mr Kashkari said he knew some of those who had been killed.

“They have left us, but let us not lose our hope, because they have gone to where the final destination of all of us is.”

He thanked the police, Government, business community and other agencies.

Ayyub Bhikoo speaks at Sacred Heart Church, Ponsonby.

Al Jamie Mosque official Ayyub Bhikoo told the service that his family had been in New Zealand for more than a century and that he had been raised in New Zealand’s culture.

“We love New Zealand culture. What happened in Christchurch, each and every New Zealander felt,” he said.

He said the Muslim community is vigilant about detecting and rooting out any shoots of hate-filled radicalism that might attempt to emerge in their communities in this country. Some years ago, local Muslim authorities closed an Auckland mosque at which hatred was being preached, he added.

Mr Bhikoo said the people who have gathered outside the mosque on Vermont Street since the killings have touched his heart.

“I saw a wonderful, wonderful people,” he said.

People of many different creeds and races at the service sang several heartfelt verses of the national anthem “God Defend New Zealand”. Then the Muslim community led people across the street to the mosque, at which men and women were hosted in different rooms.

After some good-natured banter between hosts and guests about parking, Bishop Dunn expressed the hope that out of the tragedy would come a strengthened relationship between faiths in New Zealand.

“As people of faith, we can work together to make New Zealand a place where all are honoured, all are welcomed, all are loved, all are treated with kindness and respect — the very antithesis of what happened in Christchurch on Friday,” Bishop Dunn said.

“And I think that act of cruelty, cowardice, terrorism, has really shocked the people of New Zealand. And the overwhelming response has been, we are not going to go that way, that is not the way for us. It is not the way, as the Prime Minister said, for any nation. There is no place for that in our world. It is not the human way.”

“It has affected all of us deeply,” the bishop said to his Muslim hosts, “but we cannot even begin to imagine how deeply it has affected you and your community.”

“I would like to stress once again our love and our respect for you.”

 

 

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