After terror attacks, New Zealand bishops tell Muslims: ‘We hold you in prayer’

This is a view of the Al Noor Mosque on Deans Avenue in Christchurch, New Zealand, taken in 2014. The mosque was one of two attacked March 15, 2019; at least 49 people were killed. (CNS photo/Martin Hunter, Reuters) 

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (CNS) — New Zealand's Catholic bishops have expressed their horror and distress at a terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch which saw at least 49 people killed.

The shootings took place at or near the Al Noor Mosque, where 41 people were killed, and at the Linwood Mosque, where 7 were killed. One more person subsequently died at Christchurch Hospital. Muslims had gathered at the mosques for Friday prayers. Some of those killed were children, it has been reported.

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The terror attack started at around 1:40 p.m. local time, sparking a massive mobilization by police. New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush announced at 9 p.m. that a man in his late 20s had been charged with murder and would appear in the Christchurch District Court the next day.

Some three-and-a-half hours after the attacks began, the New Zealand bishops released a message, addressed to the nation's Muslim community, via social media.

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The shootings took place at or near the Al Noor Mosque, where 41 people were killed, and at the Linwood Mosque, where 7 were killed.

"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."

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The bishops signed off their message "Peace, Salaam."

A message sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, on behalf of Pope Francis said the pope was "deeply saddened to learn of the injury and loss of life caused by the senseless acts of violence" at the mosques.

“We hold you in prayer as we hear the terrible news of violence against Muslims at mosques in Christchurch,” the bishops wrote.

"He assures all New Zealanders, and in particular the Muslim community, of his heartfelt solidarity in the wake of these attacks." He also offered prayers and blessings to those injured, those grieving, those who died and emergency personnel.

Christchurch Bishop Paul Martin 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 planned to celebrate 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 March 16.

Pope Francis “assures all New Zealanders, and in particular the Muslim community, of his heartfelt solidarity in the wake of these attacks.”

This is the second major tragedy involving significant loss of life in Christchurch in the last decade. On Feb. 22, 2011, an earthquake struck the city, killing 185 people. The Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament suffered severe damage, as did the nearby Anglican Cathedral.

Anglican Bishop Peter Carrell of Christchurch issued a statement on behalf of all church leaders in the city in early evening.

"Church leaders are absolutely devastated at the unprecedented situation in Christchurch this afternoon, and our hearts and prayers go to all involved. No religious organization 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."

“Across the churches of Christchurch and Canterbury, we are praying for our Muslim brothers and sisters.”

Five Catholic high schools and about a dozen elementary schools in Christchurch city were among many schools that went into lockdown in mid-afternoon as news of the terror attacks spread. Children and staff were unable to leave the schools until 5:30 p.m., when enough police personnel had been deployed to ensure a safe passage home.

When the lifting of the lockdown, one Catholic high school, the all-girls Villa Maria College, stated on Facebook announced that rolls would be taken in the school gym and that students would be "debriefed with pastoral care on hand." After this, students were released.

The March 15 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 73-page manifesto.

Facebook and Twitter reportedly removed the gunman's pages.

The March 15 attack is the deadliest mass shooting in New Zealand's history.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said: "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."

"Christchurch was their home," Ms. Ardern said. "For many, this may not have been the place they were born, in fact for many, New Zealand was their choice. The place they actively came to and committed to. The place they were raising their families. Where they were parts of communities that they loved and who loved them in return. It was a place that many came to for its safety. A place where they were free to practice their culture and their religion."

The prime minister added: "For those of you who are watching at home tonight and questioning how this could have happened here. We, New Zealand, we were not a target because we are a safe harbor for those who hate. We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism. We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things."

Mosques across the country closed on Friday at the urgings of police. Vigils sprang up throughout New Zealand as people gathered to mourn and grieve.

A meme on Facebook shared by many showed a sobbing kiwi.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J Cosgrove
6 months 1 week ago

I lived in Christchurch for a year. The Kiwis are really nice and extremely warm people. Christchurch was described as the most British city in the world at the time and there is even a little river winding through the town called the Thames. My guess is that the warm people is still true but a few crazies can do anything anywhere in today's world. Hopefully, this will lead to more safeguards against this happening again.

Tim Donovan
6 months 1 week ago

I can only think of three " safeguards" to hopefully help prevent such killings. First, more stringent gun control laws. Even though such laws aren't foolproof in terms of preventing deliberate shootings, I believe laws can help reduce the number of deaths from guns. Also, increased funding for more police officers seems useful to me. Finally, although most people who are mentally ill don't become violent, I support expanded mental health services to help reduce deaths from guns.

J Jones
6 months 1 week ago

Tim, just to be clear, white supremacy is not a mental illness. It is an ideology. It is a hateful and dangerous ideology and leads to behavior we have a tendency to call "insane". But it is not mental illness. There has been no information released that links this white supremacist's massacre of Muslim people to mental illness and the persons who live with it (who are, as you, statistically far, far more likely to be victims of violence). Please, leave them out of this.

White supremacy is a choice and actions grounded in that ideology are volitional.

Tim Donovan
6 months 1 week ago

Hello. I do understand that white supremacy is an ideology based on hate, not a mental illness. With respect, I didn't mean to imply that I thought this white supremacist/anti-immigrant suspected killer was mentally ill. As mentioned, I don't believe that most people who are mentally ill become violent. In fact, I have some personal experience with mentally ill people. My Aunt Dorothy spent most of her life in a state mental institution (from age 15 until her death at about age 70). She was a very quiet, sedate woman. (She was only put into an institution because at the time she was growing up, it was typical for people who were severely mentally ill to be placed in institutions. Unlike in the past 40 years or so, there were no group homes for the mentally ill (I'm a retired Special Education teacher who instructed children with brain damage; I also worked at as an aide and was a supervisor at group homes for disabled adults). Also, sadly there was no in-home support for the parents of people who were mentally ill, and no schools or employment programs for mentally ill people who were able to work. As an aside, my late Grandmom (mother of my Aunt Dorothy) was very devoted and loving towards her. She would take a trolley and two buses on a long trip from her home in Philadelphia, PA to the Delaware State Mental Hospital outside Wilmington, Delaware to visit her daughter and bring her new clothes and good food, and spend time with her for some years. After my parents were married in the mid-1950's, my Dad began to drive my Grandmom and as a family (my Mom, brother, sister and me) accompanied them on visits of perhaps twice a month. After my Grandmom died, my Dad and me would drive my Mom to visit her sister (Aunt Dorothy). My Aunt wasn't able to have "normal" relationships with other people, although by smiling occasionally she indicated (I believe) that she enjoyed having us visit her. My aunt wasn't competent to choose a religious faith, yet my Dad made arrangements with a priest from the Archdiocese of Wilmington to conduct an informal prayer service when my Aunt died and was,buried on tye grounds of the mental hospital. I apologize for this lengthy post, but despite her difficulties during her life, I loved my Aunt Dorothy, and have in some ways good memories of my family's visits to her. I especially remember with fondness and respect the love shown by Grandmom towards her most vulnerable daughter. To make a too long story "short," I didn't intend to drag people who are mentally ill into this tragedy. I agree with you wholeheartedly that white supremacists are racists and in the case,of this alleged shooter a vicious criminal.

J Jones
6 months 1 week ago

Tim, thank you for helping me understand you. You seem very kind.

My concern is that we have a tendency, at least here in the US when speaking of gun violence and gun control issues, to bring up persons with mental illness. I believe that has the effect of reinforcing the stereotype that links mentally ill persons with epidemic gun violence, an equation which makes often very painful, often very lonely, often very isolated and vulnerable lives that much more difficult painful, lonely, isolated and vulnerable.

... AND I believe that reflexive equation had the effect of allowing us to dismiss as "crazies" terrorists who are avowed and ideological white supremacists, islamophobes, anti-Semites, homophobes and other xenophobes.
They are not "crazies", as another said here. They are adherents to ideologies that are increasingly routine.

Tim Donovan
6 months 1 week ago

Dear Mr. or Ms. Brookbank. Please understand that I don't mean to be disrespectful in my salutation to you, but I don't know if you're a man or a woman (in either case, you have your right to privacy in that regard). Thank you for your kind words to me and thoughtful views. I agree that it's mistaken to hold up people who are mentally ill as scapegoats for the causes of gun deaths. I agree that such people are often lonely, stigmatized, and mistreated either emotionally or physically. All the best to you as you continue to make such intelligent posts.

J Jones
6 months 1 week ago

Duplicate

Lisa M
6 months 1 week ago

J- I'm not sure the two are necessarily mutually exclusive. I agree it is a choice to be a white supremacist, but in reality, how can that ideology possibly be part of a normal thought process? Something is terribly amiss.

J Jones
6 months 1 week ago

I agree something is terribly amiss. But there isn't any mystery about what it is, and it is not persons living with psychiatric illnesses (which is what is meant by "mental illness" by most). What is amiss is a worldview that renders non-white non-Christians as "others" who are portrayed as "invaders" of spaces and places white Christians have claimed for themselves. The massacre of 50 innocent worshippers was committed by a man whose language is increasingly commonplace. Objections to that increasingly routine use of that language are also routinely dismissed as "political correctness" rather than objections to the worldview and language , which we know --- from the killers' own writings and words --- inspire massacres like the two in houses of worship in New Zealand. We know what we can do to stop this.

Lisa M
6 months 1 week ago

The white supremacists are not Christians, any more than the radical Islamists are Muslims. Love of God and of fellowman are absent in both terrorist groups. We should not be afraid to say so, and call either group out for it. Religion has nothing to do with this, other than the victims who have be martyred for practicing their faith. The recent massacre in the Philippines in a Catholic Church is identical to this massacre at the mosques. Hate filled individuals falsely masking behind religion to take out their fellowman because the terrorist spent his energy looking for fault in others rather than looking to help others. The treatment, however, of our Muslim brothers throughout the world in our political and social-economic practices leaves much to be explained as we continue to turn a blind eye to the inequities of this world.

J Jones
6 months ago

Lisa, I agree with you and am grateful you took the time to say this explicitly. It remains true that white supremacy is fueling violent extremism and massacres and the extremists often mask (i agree) as Christians. That perversion of Christianity (or any faith, and I agree 100% that Islam is perverted by terrorists) requires that white Christians guard zealously against any and every hint Islamophobia, xenophobia and/or supremacy of white or Christian identity or culture.

This is a Catholic Christian publication and I have yet to encounter the any commenters who identify as Muslim or Jewish. Some identity as Christian from other Christian denominations. Christians need to hold Christians accountable; whites need to hold whites accountable, most especially because we collectively hold most of the world's power and wealth. If these white supremacists are perverting Christianity rather than reflecting and acting on a genuine aspect of Christianity as practiced by Christians, then it should be extraordinarily easy and in fact a n immediate and pasdionate priority for white Christians to disavow them, reject them in the strongest of terms similar to those expressed by the NZ prime minister to this mass murderer: "you may have chosen us but we do not choose you".

We need to set the bar at ZERO tolerance when it comes to routine, casual Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, anti-semitism, homophobia and the converse: supremacy of Christianity, whiteness, heterosexuality. If you see something, say something because the lives of our Muslim, Jewish, black, gay neighbors will continue to be at risknext time they go to worship or go out dancing. It is possible for white Christians to express AND celebrate the legitimacy of their identity without denigrating the identities of others.

It is essential that white Christians hold white Christians accountable in our white Christian spaces because it is in these spaces that extremists are looking for recruits AND they are also looking for signals that their worldview is on the rise and, thus, tolerated in these spaces.

Finally, it is in these white Christian spaces that extremist white Christian supremacists are looking for signals of a critical mass who may just be waiting for someone "brave enough" to act on it.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC.org) is a good source of education about these dynamics and the obligation of all people of good will to be and act vigilantly in condemning (with a goal of eradicating) every instance of white Christian supremacy from our individual, cultural and structural language and conduct.

"You may have chosen us but we don't choose you".

rose-ellen caminer
6 months 1 week ago

Tucker Carlson, who is on main stream cable media must be very pleased today.It was recently made public that some years ago he said he wanted to kill as many Muslims as he could .He has refused to take back his statements, has doubled down ; saying that he is willing to discuss anything he has said; advocating genocide, dehumanizing people based on their ethnicity[Iraqis he and his radio host specifically labeled animals] is a perfectly acceptable position to take ,he apparently believes .If you don't think so you are a snow flake!And the media station he still has his show on, apparently agrees. He has guests going on his show saying it is "an honor to be talking to him"; wink wink.

Glenn Beck and Savage's latest podcasts and radio shows were pure anti Muslim hateful propaganda; :"even when they are nice people they are just fooling you" was actually said[ paraphrasing, by Savage's Christian "expert on Islam" and Muslims.!The most pernicious anti- Semitism of the 21st century in the US, is directed at Semitic Islam and its adherent. It is all over the internet, on blogs even reputable blogs. Trump ran and got elected saying he wanted to ban all Muslims; and won at the Supreme Court[ only Muslims from countries where there are no refugees escaping wars and persecutions are allowed here.Those who are war refugees can all languish is camps in deplorable living conditions for them and their kids.Their suffering does not matter to us]. Muslim elected representatives are being labeled terrorists ,and every anti Muslim Trope is being leveled at them.Omar was depicted as a terrorist behind 9-11 in a state capital building and the federal government , the media did not protest this. Much of radio talk shows are barely covering this terrorist attack. When they do it is perfunctory and it is labeled anti immigrant; and the anti Semitic aspect; directed at Semitic Islam and Muslim people is being down played as secondary.

Trump so far has said that said we stand with the people of NZ; That is what you say after an earth quake. He said nothing about the Muslim community who were the targets of the Islamophobic hateful attack.

As the comment above expresses; anti- Semitic hate directed at Muslims is not recognized for the pernicious reality it is, but will be supported by silence or disguising it; deflecting as the work of "some crazies"!That the attacker has a political manifesto expressing anti Muslim bigotry,as well as racism and that you would call it the work of "some crazies" shows dishonesty , and complicity with 21st century anti Semitism directed at Muslims! Both are sins and both are unchristian.Like I said this 21st century anti- Semitism pervades the landscape even on respectable main stream Christian blogs!

J Jones
6 months 1 week ago

Rose Ellen, I agree. Thank you for taking the time to say this. Every time I hear these things, I cringe, knowing that our Muslim neighbors are a little less safe from that day forward.

Vincent Gaglione
6 months 1 week ago

You write: "this 21st century anti- Semitism pervades the landscape even on respectable main stream Christian blogs!" May I suggest that the blogs are neither Christian nor Catholic, but the perverse inventions of people whose minds are living in the Middle Ages, often as the product of parental and religious instruction and training that bears no relation to the Christ. The Man who spoke to the Samaritan woman with much obvious respect and affection defied the conventions against speaking to a woman, a foreigner and a person of a different faith. I don't think He would trade in the hatred spewed on so many alleged Catholic and/or Christian blogs. While we may want to convince each other of the validity of our beliefs, it is not accomplished by inculcating hatred of others.

Sha'Pearl Jones
6 months 1 week ago

120 Christians mercilessly and savagely slaughtered by filthy Muslim terrorists in Nigeria over the last three weeks and silence from the MSM, which I expected. What I didn't expect was silence from this publication. Christian lives matter!

J Jones
6 months ago

I was not aware of this news and will pursue it. In a quick search I did see that this story is primarily reported by Christian sites and am interested to understand why. Thank you for calling my attention to this story.

J Cosgrove
6 months ago

The New York Times not only did not place this story on the front page, they did not feature it at all. Apparently, the massacre of African Christians is not newsworthy. Neither did the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit Free Press, the LA Times, and every other major paper in the United States nor the news shows from the three major television channels nor CNN nor MSNBC. Any guesses why?

Lisa M
6 months ago

J Cosgrove- Quite simply because they are not white.

J Jones
6 months ago

I agree with Lisa that this is part of it.

J Cosgrove
6 months ago

Quite simply because they are not white? Hardly! That has nothing to do with it!

You just accused all these news organizations of being racist!!! That's true. They are racists but mainly it does not fit their agenda. Blacks being harmed are a major focus of their reporting. But not when it’s done by other blacks and especially when the blacks being harmed are Christians.

Lisa M
6 months ago

J Cosgrove- The very fact that you felt the need to highlight and increase your font size in your response suggests your unwillingness to be open to the possibility that this is the case. It saddens me greatly that so many Catholics prefer to take this position rather than reflect on history, and own what continues to happen in our society. Did you not see the extensive coverage of the attacks in Christian countries like Spain, England, France and Germany? The issue is being white. If the Christians being slaughtered in Africa were white, the main stream media would be covering it. I'm sorry if that doesn't fit your narrative, and you prefer to see it as ignoring Christianity. That said, there is no question that attacks from far right terrorists in western countries are going to get a great deal of coverage in the main stream media. That does not take away from the reality of news coverage in general.

J Cosgrove
6 months ago

I have not a clue what you are trying to say. Are you saying that it is because they are black they are not covered? Then you just accused the US news media of being racist. And I am agreeing with you. What does bolding the type do but emphasize that most of the US news media is racist which is what you said above?

Lisa M
6 months ago

J Cosgrove-Sorry if I haven't been clear. My point is I am aware that because the attack in New Zealand was committed by a white Supremacist, yes, the media jumped on it, BUT, coverage of radical Islamist attacks are also extensively covered, IF, and ONLY if, the victims are white. The issue is not Muslim vs Christianity (although people are more careful what they say regarding any minority) Blacks are not treated equally, no matter what some choose to believe, and black on black crime is only an example of what poverty and despair breed. Black on black crime is not an issue among the middle classes, and as far as I am concerned is a white man's cop out, like the "white lives matter too" bs spewed by those who refuse to acknowledge the inequities around them.

J Cosgrove
6 months ago

And what caused the inequities? I suggest you read Thomas Sowell. He has published several books on the topic and may be one of the two or three brightest people in the US. Or you can watch a video of him recently. He is in his late 80's and will soon be lost to us but enjoy him while we can. https://hvr.co/2ugDAAk You might also want to look at Candace Owens who was mentioned by the shooter as his influence to see some absurdity in all this http://bit.ly/2ThMo2H I am on record as having these two people (Sowell and Owens) as heros.

Lisa M
6 months ago

J Cosgrove- I am familiar with both, and agree with some of the things they say. I do not, however believe that just because a person is of the same religious or ethnic background as the disenfranchised group, they are somehow not in error, or their arguments hold greater weight. Catholics most certainly have shown that, with the diversity of beliefs within our own faith, despite clear moral and social teachings.
As an example, an unchallenged, free pass vote for the democrats has not served the black community well, and should be challenged, but that does not in any way mean that I think we do not have a responsibility to demand change. Blaming a few policies on the problem ignores our role in a much deeper problem with race relations . Assigning fault to the left is far too convenient, and may serve to ease some consciences, but does nothing to resolve it. It only puts blame on someone else. Not a practice I'm willing to accept as a member of a privileged group who has never had to face such struggles as my black neighbours.

J Jones
6 months ago

I found the story in Al Jazeera, the Qatari news outlet. Qatar is predominantly Muslim and Al Jazeera is known for factual, complex, challenging reporting.
https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.aljazeera.com/amp/news/2019/02/death-toll-week-nigeria-attack-doubles-130-190219193655675.html

The incidents are different, both horrifying, one reflecting complex civil conflict (the predominantly Christian south and the predominantly Muslim north, land conflicts, attacks in both directions) while the other was fueled by an international white supremacist movement in which anyone who is different (Muslim, Jewish, non-white, immigrant, gay) hunted down in their gathering spaces (places of worship and cultural sites) and massacred en masse for the simple reason that they are different. (A glaring glaring glaring fact: the NZ mass murderer said he killed these people because they left their "homelands"; HE himself is Australian, an immigrant to NZ who apparently thinks his white immigration to another country is just fine while non-white, Muslim immigration is calls for massacre.)

Both horrifying. Very different. Requiring different responses. The massacre of Muslims in their mosque was defined --- by the mass murderer himself --- as explicitly and specifically motivated by his white supremacist, xenophobic worldview and his admiration for those who have spoken and behaved in ways that make it clear or suggest they share his worldview. That is an extraordinarily important cautionary tale that should strike fear into hearts everywhere that, God forbid, our casual and routine white Christian words and actions of islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism should embolden a mass murderer and be cited as influential in the inspiration and planning and execution of a massacre. And that fear that a mass murderer could feel justified by our words and actions --- a fear that a massacre could be perpetrated n our names because we have engaged in xenophobia (in any of the varieties I list above) ---- should lead us to hold ourselves and each other accountable to eliminating islamophobic, anti-semitic, racist, xenophobic, homophobic language and actions and narratives and structures from our individual and collective lives.
These massacres are the risk we take when we denigrate non white, non- Christian others. It is not about political correctness. It is about keeping people alive.

Laura Gonzalez
6 months ago

It's not that simple. Breitbart, where you likely heard this, has stressed hte religious affiliation of the parties. But if you read this, you'll see that Muslim herders are attacking other Muslim herders in a different area. Religion is not the cause. https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/nigeria-christians-muslims/

J Jones
6 months ago

Laura, as I noted above, I also found that the facts are much more complicated than the story presented by Breitbart and the Christian press. I was immediately reminded of this story (https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/world/2018/aug/23/white-farmers-trump-south-africa-tucker-carlson-far-right-influence) and a similar rapid spread throughout the conservative, Christian press with the result that I was not willing to accept the rapidly spreading version of THIS story in the Christian and conservative press. That the facts are different and more complicated doesn't make the violence less terrible; it simply means that the facts are different; the analysis is different; the solutions will be different; and, thus, the response to the news is different. I do not know, without significant education, if there is any role for me in supporting an end to local civil conflicts on another continent but I know without a second thought that there is a role for everyone reading, writing and posting here in stopping the spread of white supremacy, Christian supremacy, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, homophobia and racism that fueled and inspired acts of terrorism against blacks Baptists in Charlotte, Jews in Philadelphia, Muslims in Christchurch and gays at the nightclub in California.

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