Church leaders offer support


Dunedin church leaders have shared in the shock and horror of Friday’s mosque attacks, and are raising their voices in support of Muslim communities.

Anglican Bishop of Dunedin the Right Rev Dr Steven Benford said the impact of the events was taking time to sink in.

“As Christians, we share in the sadness and the horror, and questioning how this could happen,” Dr Benford said.

Such an attack sought to take away people’s worth as human beings, but the response that had been seen since Friday had been a way of expressing that “these people do matter”, he said.

is that none of us are immune from this – so we need to respect humanity.

“And, as is completely in line with the Christian faith, we need to love our neighbours as we love ourselves,” Dr Benford said.

To mark a week since the tragedy, St Paul’s Cathedral would hold a 15 to 20-minute service of commemoration and lament at noon tomorrow.

“We [will] be remembering those who died, we will be lighting 50 candles, and taking the opportunity to sit, to remember, and to search our own hearts.”

The events of Christchurch were a wake-up call for all of us to look out for our neighbours, he said.

“As we recognise and come to know our own neighbours and community, these things become less likely.”

Catholic Bishop of Dunedin, the Most Rev Michael Dooley, said the suffering of the Muslim community had been acknowledged during sombre services at the weekend. And there had been a swift response from Pope Francis.

“It was very much at the forefront of people’s minds – we are in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters,” Bishop Dooley said.

Many people were dropping in to churches for silent prayer, even late at night, he said.

Bishop Dooley described Dunedin as a very welcoming community.

“But you can’t take it for granted, and the more we get to know each other, the better it is.

“A positive outcome would be for people to get to know their neighbours, as the best antidote to hatred,” he said.

There had been a double tragedy for the Catholic community, with the sudden death this week of Kavanagh College principal, Tracy O’Brien, following a medical event.

First Church of Otago associate minister Rev Anne Thomson said members of the Presbyterian community were very aware that those killed and wounded at the Christchurch mosques had been gathered in prayer.

A prayer space had been set up at the front of First Church, where visitors were invited to use flower petals as a sign of their prayer for the Garden City.

Mrs Thomson said, as time passed, New Zealanders would need to reflect and think about how to move forward.

“We will have to face up to the hard truths about this country, and to listen to the stories about what it is like to live as an immigrant in New Zealand.

“We must keep listening, keep talking, and keep taking opportunities to reach out,” she said.

In a statement, Dunedin’s Jewish community utterly condemned the “vile hate crimes” committed in Christchurch on Friday and extended sincerest sympathies and condolences to all those affected.

“We offer our support to promote peace and understanding between all faiths and communities,” it said.