NZ has experienced ‘cultural awakening’

Welcoming to all . . . Paul Gourlie of the AoNZ Embassy and peace garden in Albany St says there has been an awakening in New Zealand in the wake of last year's Christchurch mosque terror attacks. PHOTO: BRENDA HARWOOD

Peace activist Paul Gourlie believes there has been a cultural awakening in New Zealand since the Christchurch mosque terror attacks a year ago.

Mr Gourlie was president of the Dunedin Multi Ethnic Council when a lone gunman attacked two Christchurch mosques on March 15, 2019, killing 51 people.

Mr Gourlie has since stepped down from the role.

A Muslim, he continues to live his faith and to focus his efforts on fostering understanding among New Zealand’s many cultures through the AoNZ Embassy and peace garden in Albany St.

Looking back to the events of a year ago, Mr Gourlie said Muslims believed the people who died on that day were with God in heaven.

“Of course, we are thinking about it, and we remember them in our prayers,” he said.

He understood the desire of the wider New Zealand community to commemorate the day, saying it was because people wanted to care for other New Zealanders.

“It has led to people looking at our race relations, and wishing to learn how to honour each other’s culture.

“In this way, it has caused an awakening in our community.”

While there would be no formal events in Dunedin to mark the anniversary, some in the Muslim community would travel to Christchurch for the national memorial.

Others would return to Araiteuru Marae this weekend, a place of “comfort and safety for many” a year ago, he said.

Araiteuru Marae will host the official opening of Race Relations Week, a manaakitanga community engagement powhiri, at 10.30am this Saturday.

The powhiri invites people from all ethnicities, cultures and countries to gather under one roof to celebrate inclusive diversity in Dunedin.

“This will be a chance for us to acknowledge our loved ones, friends and colleagues,” Mr Gourlie said.

He was also looking forward to the visit by New Zealand Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon on Thursday next week and his speech at Araiteuru Marae at 6.30pm.

Having Race Relations Day celebrations in the Octagon on March 21 would be a wonderful way to celebrate the city’s ethnic diversity, Mr Gourlie said.

In a “world of conflict” it was vital for people to be able to openly discuss their differences with compassion and love, and to find the things they held in common.

Founded in 2017, the AoNZ Embassy at 76 Albany St was a residence and work-space, and also a place of welcome for people of all ethnic backgrounds.

“All of us are ambassadors, and we do a lot of pastoral work among the university community,” Mr Gourlie said.

The peace garden next door to the building had grown into a beautiful green space, which was popular with students as a study and workshop space, as well as a community garden.