By Vatican News
Reporting from New Zealand, Nicky Webber says, "Our entire country is absolutely devastated by the 49 confirmed deaths in New Zealand’s first terrorist attack". She described "the massacre of innocent people, at prayer, in their place of worship" as "shocking and heartbreaking".
The attacks began in the early afternoon on Friday, when at least one person entered the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch and began firing on worshippers. Early reports suggested that there may have been multiple attackers. The attack on the second mosque began a short time later. "Many Muslims attending the lunchtime service at the two Mosques in Christchurch were immigrants and refugees, from war torn countries, seeking peace, safety and solace, for their families," Webber said. "They are Kiwis too, part of our community and we mourn with them too".
Police also found IEDs (improvised explosive devices, or homemade bombs), attached to cars near the site of the attacks. UPDATE: Authorities later clarified that two bombs had been found in a single car.
“It is clear that this is one of New Zealand’s darkest days”, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement following the attacks. Although she was unable to confirm the number of casualties, local media reported that at least 40 people were killed, and at least 50 people wounded. “Clearly, what has happened here is an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence”, the Prime Minister said.
Authorities said that four people – three men and one woman – were in custody in connection with the shooting. One person, a 28-year-old man, has already been charged with murder; while police are continuing to investigate whether the other people arrested were in fact involved. The Australian man, whose name has not been released, had posted a racist, anti-immigrant manifesto on social media prior to the shootings, and afterwards apparently posted video footage of the attack. Police have urged people not to share the violent and disturbing footage, and Facebook and other social media companies have been working to remove the videos, as well as any comments in support of the attacks.
"New Zealand is an ethnically diverse country", Webber said, "which has always practised tolerance for all races, cultures and religions. We are a welcoming, peaceful and compassionate nation who today have been shocked to our very core that such hatred has come to our shores". She said, "Every Kiwi is offering their compassion, support and love to those suffering from this horrific crime".
Catholic Bishops express solidarity
Following the attack, the Catholic Bishops of New Zealand addressed a message to members of the Muslim community in New Zealand:
“We hold you in prayer as we hear the terrible news of violence against Muslims in mosques in Christchurch. 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.”
The message concludes, “Peace, Salaam”, and is signed by all five Catholic Bishops of New Zealand.