By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
On Saturday, New Zealand marked the second anniversary of the tragic killing of fifty-one worshippers at two Christchurch mosques by a gunman. Several hundred people gathered at the Christchurch Arena for the national remembrance service in honor of those who died during the attack.
In a gesture of closeness and solidarity, the New Zealand Bishops’ Committee for Interfaith Relations sent a letter of support to the country’s Muslim communities.
“In a spirit of peace and prayer we reach out at this time to those who live in this land, and especially the Muslim community of New Zealand,” says the letter, signed by committee chair, Colin MacLeod. “We continue to pray and work for rich dialogue with, and warm welcome to, those of diverse beliefs and cultures.”
In the 15 March 2019 attacks, Australian Brenton Tarrant killed 44 people at the Al Noor mosque during Friday prayers and then drove to the Linwood mosque where he killed seven others. Following the attacks, New Zealand passed laws banning various types of semiautomatic weapons.
Love recreates society
“We acknowledge that intolerant and violent attitudes and behaviors still exist in Aotearoa (New Zealand), but we believe that the united power of love, lived out as neighbors and friends, has the capacity to re-create our society,” continued the statement.
Moreover, as Catholics, Muslims and Jewish brothers and sisters all have “an ancient relationship” through shared connections to Abraham, “we give thanks for the diversity of deeply held religious beliefs which draw people to embrace one another with compassion, healing and hope.”
The statement further highlights that while many may hold those religious beliefs are the cause of violence, the experience of the rich relationships with those of many faiths shows that “the choice to cause harm to others is grounded not in the divine but in other attitudes such as selfishness and fear.”
The Interfaith Committee, therefore, prays that all violence may cease and that all diversity of faith “may be seen as an opportunity for dialogue through which all may be blessed.”
Re-echoing the words of Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, in the Document on Human Fraternity, the statement concludes with a reminder to all that “faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved.”
This, the Bishops’ Interfaith Committee says, “is how we choose to respond. Brother, sister – welcome.”