Christchurch vigil terror attack, remember those killed in the mosque massacres

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Christchurch vigil terror attack, remember those killed in the mosque massacres.

Aroha and solidarity rang out loud and clear across Christchurch’s Hagley Park as tens of thousands attended a vigil to remember those killed in the mosque massacres.

People, sitting on picnic blankets and on chairs, turned to strangers and embraced, others wiped their partners tears and women wore headscarves to show their solidarity.

Speakers stood on a stage meant for the Bryan Adams concert cancelled a week earlier, and in front of them a sea of people sat in absolute silence as the names of the 50 killed were read out by the Linwood mosque Imam Ibrahim Abdul Halim.

The silence continued as the crowd was asked to take a minute to pay their respects to those killed. Only the sounds of a distant helicopter overtop and metal clanging on the stage could be heard. Armed police officers stood guard.

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The loudest cheer during the entire 90-minute vigil was reserved for the first responders, who were given a standing ovation.

Five opera singers sang a spine-chilling rendition of Never Walk Alone, from the 1945 Rogers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel. The song brought tears to people’s eyes.

There was also a kapa haka performance by Ngā Kapa Haka O Waitaha and the crowd was asked to turn to each other and hug. People did – even strangers.

University of Canterbury Muslim Students’ Association president Bariz Shah challenged the gunman, asking “what are you afraid of?”

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With exasperation clear in his voice, he said: “Are you afraid of diversity? Are you afraid that New Zealand is a country where you can walk down the street and enjoy a meal from the other side of the world. Are you afraid of this?

“We need to overcome this ideology by gaining knowledge.”

The outpouring of support and grief following last week’s attack showed him that “we are all on one waka”, Shah said.

“After this tragedy I really see that. It’s reassuring for us Muslims here who want to contribute to New Zealand society.”

But he said New Zealand’s work was not done: “If we hear any racist remarks … we need to say something.”

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Cashmere High School head boy Okirano Tilaia, who organised a vigil last Monday for students wanting to pay their respects to those affected by the terror attack, encouraged the crowd to “unite in love, not hatred”.

“Instead of staying quiet, let’s speak out and rise above. We can’t go back and change the beginning … but we can change the ending.

“The only thing stronger than hate is love.”

He said difference was what made individuals, and it could either divide or unite.

“Let’s stand in unity tonight.”

Vigil organiser Scott Esdaile said he held the event to bring the community back together and show the world what Christchurch was about, which was “love and compassion”.

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