The 51 worshippers murdered in the Christchurch mosque attacks almost two years ago by a white supremacist have been remembered at a national service with songs, prayers, speeches and pledges to rebuild the community.
New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and the governor general, Patsy Reddy, joined around 1,000 members of the community at Christchurch’s Horncastle arena on Saturday for the service.
The centrepiece of the service was a reading of the names of the dead as their pictures were displayed on a big screen alongside descriptions provided by their families.
“Lovely and always helpful from the bottom of his heart towards others. Courageous and loyal till his last breath,” read the dedication to Hussein Al-Umari, who died attempting to confront the terrorist, Australian man Brenton Tarrant, at Al Noor mosque.
In the 15 March 2019 attacks, Tarrant killed 44 people at Al Noor mosque during Friday prayers before driving to the Linwood mosque, where he killed another seven.
The 30-year-old pleaded guilty last year to 51 counts of murder, 40 counts of attempted murder and one count of terrorism. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
On Saturday, representatives of bereaved families, affected youth, the wounded and the community gave speeches to those assembled.
Temel Atacocugu, who was shot nine times in the face, arms and legs, delivered an address on behalf of the injured, according to Stuff. He said 15 March 2019 was the day that “marked history with a dark stain”.
He said the victims were “proud Cantabrians and New Zealanders – they are us” and described how he managed to escape Al Noor mosque with a friend.
The 200-metre walk to the ambulance was the longest, hardest path I have ever taken. I sat on the ground beside an ambulance … my body filled with pain and fear. I kept thinking of my two sons, my mother, my siblings and all the people I love.”
He cried as he recalled the moment the father of three-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim was told he had died.
Maha Elmadani, whose father, Ali Mah’d Elmadani, was among the dead, said those killed were loving fathers, mothers, brothers and sons. “They had so much to give to this land, they were proud Kiwis and we were blessed to have them in our lives.”
She said living a principled life was just as important as remembering the dead: “Spread kindness. Spread kindness. That is what we have been taught.”
Amid the personal tributes, there were also pleas for more action.
Kiran Munir, who lost her husband, Haroon Mahmood, said there was an “urgent need to have well defined laws for hate crime and hate speech” as recommended by the royal commission into the attack and as promised by Ardern during last year’s election campaign.
“The gaps and flaws in the system in our society are laid bare in the royal commission report,” she said.
“There’s still a long way to go to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. Even so, the wound that gets bandaged and cared for, will heal much faster and better than the one that is not looked after. Thank you Aotearoa and the team of five million for being our bandage.”
Ardern spoke last, clad not in a hijab as she did in the days following the attack to show her support, but a korowai, a Māori cloak symbolic of leadership.
She said that as she tried to prepare words to say at the service she was “at a loss”, according to Stuff.
“Much has been said, but words, despite their healing power will never change what happened that day. Words will not bring back those men women and children who gathered at their place of worship, quietly and peacefully when they were taken in an act of terror.”
She also pledged to continue to fight racism.
“In the aftermath of the terror attack I heard the stories of women who were frequently harassed because they were easily identifiable,” she said.
“Of children whose earliest experiences of racism are in the school grounds. We have to ask ourselves, what does it take a create a generation that is emphatic but strong?”
Source: The Guardian UK
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