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Prayers, grief and solidarity after mosque attacks in New Zealand

AUCKLAND (CNS): New Zealand’s Catholic bishops expressed horror and distress at a March 15 terrorist attack targeting two mosques in Christchurch, in which at least 50 people died and at least as many injured. 
The attacks took place at or near the Al Noor Mosque, most of the victims were killed, and at the Linwood Mosque as  people gathered for Friday prayers.
Muslims had gathered at the mosques for Friday prayers. Some of those killed were children, it has been reported.
New Zealand Police commissioner, Mike Bush, announced that evening that 28-year-old Brenton Harris Tarrant had been charged with murder.
Some three-and-a-half hours after the attacks began, New Zealand’s bishops released a message, addressed to the nation’s Muslim community, via social media.
“We hold you in prayer as we hear the terrible news of violence against Muslims at mosques in Christchurch,” the bishops wrote.
“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.”
The bishops signed off their message: “Peace, Salaam.”
A message sent on behalf of Pope Francis by Pietro Cardinal Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, said the pope was “deeply saddened to learn of the injury and loss of life cause by the senseless acts of violence” at the mosques.
“He assures all New Zealanders, and in particular the Muslim community, of his heartfelt solidarity in the wake of these attacks.” 
In his Sunday Angelus address on March 17, Pope Francis said, “I am close to our Muslim brothers and sisters and their entire community. I renew my invitation to unite with them in prayer and gestures of peace to counter hatred and violence.” 
After condemning the attack, Pope Francis bowed his head and led the thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square in silent prayer for the dead and the wounded. 
Bishop Paul Martin of Christchurch, released his own message on social media.
“We are horrified at the violence that has been inflicted on people of our city this afternoon,” Bishop Martin wrote.
“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 me an instrument of your peace ... “
Bishop Martin celebrated a Mass of prayer for peace, “remembering those who have died in the mosques tragedy and praying for those who are suffering,” at St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral on March 16.
“When a family member dies, we feel deep grief and loss,” the bishop said during the Mass, adding that “such grief is raw and real, and words are completely inadequate.
He told the packed pro-cathedral. “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.
“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,” he emphasised.
Anglican Bishop Peter Carrell of Christchurch, also issued a statement on behalf of all leaders of the Christchurch and Canterbury province in the city on the evening of March 15.
“Church leaders are absolutely devastated at the unprecedented situation in Christchurch this afternoon, and our hearts and prayers go to all involved. 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.”
The attack is the deadliest mass shooting in New Zealand’s history. The gunman reportedly live-streamed video of the attack using a helmet-camera. New Zealand police asked people not to share this on social media. The shooter also posted a 87-page manifesto.
Facebook and Twitter reportedly removed the gunman’s pages.
New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said on March 15, “It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack.” She said the thoughts and prayers of the nation were with “those who have been impacted today.”
Vigils sprang up throughout New Zealand as people gathered to mourn and grieve.

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