The St Addai Chaldean Catholic community in south Auckland felt the impact of the Christchurch mosque killings with a special poignancy — because many members of the Chaldean community know first-hand the sufferings inflicted by terrorism.
The St Addai community in Papatoetoe laid a floral tribute with a message in Arabic outside a local mosque the day after the shootings.
Parish priest Fr Douglas Al-Bazi told NZ Catholic that the message read “our brothers in Iraq and outside Iraq . . . please accept our prayer and condolences in this terrible, painful time. God have mercy on the people and we pray for the injured ones. Your brothers, St
Addai Catholic Church, New Zealand”.
Fr Al-Bazi, who was kidnapped for nine days by Islamic militants in 2006 in Iraq, suffering serious injuries, including being shot in the leg by an assailant wielding an AK47, said that when he heard of the events in Christchurch, he was “really angry”.
“There were thousands of questions in my head, and also for my people,” he said.
Many people in his parish have personal or family experience of terrorism, the priest said.
“There is a lady in my community — they beheaded her son in front of her. Another man, they killed his parents in front of him. This is reminding in a bad way of the background from where we are.”
Fr Al-Bazi said he told his parishioners that “we fully understand as Iraqi people, especially Christian, we really understand” the pain, “because we are survivors of genocide, systematic genocide”.
“I am still shocked, me and my people, how this could happen here in New Zealand.”
Fr Al-Bazi said people at his church have said they are scared in the wake of the events in Christchurch, fearful of revenge attacks.
“I told them, no, this is not the time to be scared. It is the time to be united. So show your happiness, show we are brave and we have to tell the people how to be calm. Because already, we have had that experience. So we have to guide people to tell them.”
“But I am quite sure no one can destroy our happiness,” Fr Al-Bazi added. “So if someone wants to hear my message, I will tell them, please, don’t let anyone steal our happiness. This country is a beautiful country. No one can destroy it. So let’s support each other, show solidarity to each other. “
Most of his community came to New Zealand seeking a safe place, and the violence that happened in Christchurch is unacceptable, he said.
“I don’t know what we can do for those survivors, for those relatives, the only thing we can do is pray for them and say, this is not New Zealand.”
Fr Al-Bazi added that this is a time to be “side-by-side” and at the end of the Mass on March 18, everyone at St Addai Church sang the national anthem, “God Defend New Zealand” in Māori and in English.
There was a police presence outside the church in Papatoetoe on March 18. Fr Al-Bazi said police told him that “it is for your protection”. Fr Al-Bazi asked the officers to park a little down the road, so as not to alarm Massgoers. The priest was worried that Massgoers might think they could be “targets”. Police did as asked, he said.