Tears flowed as heartfelt grief was expressed during a Mass for Peace celebrated by Christchurch Bishop Paul Martin, SM, on March 16, one day after the terrorist
shootings that claimed the lives of 50 people at two Christchurch mosques and which injured dozens more.
St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral was full to overflowing for the Mass, celebrated at 11.20am. People stood in the narthex and around the sides of the building.
Bishop Martin, in his homily, said that “when a family member dies, we feel deep grief and loss”.
“Such grief is raw and real, and words are completely inadequate,” the bishop said.
“Today is such a day. We are unable to express the confusion and pain we feel. Our grief threatens to overwhelm our community at the tragic loss of our sisters and brothers and the act of hate that has been inflicted.”
He added: “We gather here this morning because we are at a loss about what to do or what to say. I know that many of you have already reached out to members of the Muslim community in your neighbourhoods and workplaces. Your acts of love are already overpowering the hate.”
Bishop Martin said that at this time, a cry from the depths has been made to God and that “our loving God has not caused this pain, but the freedom God gives us as a mark of his great love has been tragically misused and abused”.
“We know, in solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers who gathered in the Christchurch mosques and around the world yesterday, that our only hope is in God. Our only hope is in God. Our only hope is in God.”
Referring to the meeting last month in the United Arab Emirates between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, Bishop Martin quoted from their joint declaration that the creator God has called on all human beings “to live together as
brothers and sisters, to fill the earth and make known the values of goodness, love and peace”.
“This is our shared mission in these tragic days in our city and in our land,” he said.
The congregation then, at Bishop Martin’s invitation, knelt and sang “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace”.
Two prayers of intercession followed, the first of which read: “God of peace: we pray for all the victims of the tragic violence in Christchurch last Friday. May those who were injured experience your love and healing. May those who have lost their lives enter the fullness
of your life and love. May all who suffer the pain and loss of their loved ones know our love and support.”
The second read: “We pray for the Muslim community in Christchurch who are our brothers and sisters with faith in one God. May they know that they are one with us, and experience our love and support for them.”
Bishop Martin also invited people to gather at the pro-Cathedral during the week of March 18-22 for prayer and reflection. Regular Masses continued, but particular times of prayer from 5.30pm each day were scheduled, featuring on different days exposition of the Blessed Sacrament (each day), Mass (Tuesday and Thursday) and Stations of the Cross (Wednesday).
Confession was available each evening and Benediction was at 8.45pm each evening. Christchurch diocese’s website had more details.
Other Catholic prayers services, Masses and vigils were held throughout the country, including in Auckland, Hamilton and Palmerston North.
Within hours of the news of the attacks at the mosques, Bishop Martin issued a statement that read: “We are horrified at the violence that has been inflicted on people of our city this afternoon. Words cannot convey our distress. Our prayers are with those who are suffering. I invite you now, wherever you are, alone or with family, workmates or friends, to pray together in the prayer of St Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make us instruments of your peace . . .”
Also on March 15, as news of the killings was emerging, the New Zealand Catholic bishops sent a message to members of the Muslim community in Aotearoa New Zealand: “We hold you in prayer as we hear the terrible news of violence against Muslims at mosques in Christchurch. We are profoundly aware of the positive relationships we have with Islamic people in this land, and we are particularly horrified that this has happened at a place and time of prayer. We are deeply saddened that people have been killed and injured,
and our hearts go out to them, their families and wider community. We wish you to be aware of our solidarity with you in the face of such violence. Peace, Salaam.”