“This is not us, we are one”
We’ve all been reading these words, saying these words and experiencing the sentiments behind these words in a variety of different ways and experiences recently. All of us were shocked and deeply disturbed by the tragic events which occurred in Christchurch on 15 March and the subsequent loss of 50 lives. Our thoughts and prayers have been for the victims, the bereaved and the injured, alongside the emergency and security services ever since.
As a child and young person growing up in the United Kingdom during the 1970s and the 1980s, regular televised reports of terrorist atrocities, sometimes just a few miles down the road, was a fairly regular occurrence, but like so many others, we never thought we would see the day here in Aotearoa New Zealand. The shock of the terrible loss of life was compounded by the fact it happened here, in a place where we perhaps felt somewhat immune and separate from global events. Many have recalled, myself included, that on 12 September 2001, just hours after we had witnessed the appalling scenes from New York, that we realised that day that the world would never be the same again. Almost 18 years ago, in this very chapel from where I write these words to you, there was a sense of anxiety and fear for the future; a future that would see the rise of other acts of terror, but little did we know then that such atrocities should reach our shores.
As the school community, we have gathered on several occasions in recent weeks and days to pause, reflect, remember and to pray. On Friday, 22 March we simultaneously, as a school community, not only rang our bell 50 times and held two minutes of silence at 1:40 pm on site, but a number of us, including almost 80 students, made our way to Hamilton’s Mosque. It was here, alongside Mayor Andrew King, the city’s MPs, and emergency service personnel, that several thousand others from across the city gathered. It was here that we laid our floral tributes and it was here that we received the open and generous hospitality from Hamilton’s Islamic community. We were invited in, we were thanked, we were prayed for, we were fed and the doors were opened to us to stand alongside those who grieved.
It was a deeply profound afternoon and generated an incredibly strong sense of standing together; of being community, of being different and yet of being one. I add my voice to the many others when we affirm our revulsion of the event itself, but yet despite the tragedy, we have seen people of this nation come together in a way that has seldom been seen before. To all those who dare to confront terror and evil, to all those who suffer from violence and cruelty; our nation of Aotearoa New Zealand has provided an example of hope and light to the world in the face of such darkness.
In a few weeks time, the school will be holding its annual Garden of Remembrance service. It is during this service that we will remember our own community’s times of darkness as we remember staff and students who have died tragically whilst active members of the school community. I’ll be using one of the slogans of Amnesty International as my theme this year: “it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”. At this annual gathering, as we remember those whom we have loved and lost, we will also light our candles for not only the victims in Christchurch but for all those who have suffered and continued to suffer in the face of evil and terror.
Of course, at times like these, we can feel powerless and helpless. We can feel insignificant and ponder such questions as what on earth can I do in the face of all this? At this point, I remind you of something that I said at last year’s service: “that the lighting of a candle is a symbolic and powerful weapon in the struggle against darkness and evil. Our candles are symbols of light, love and peace. Our candles represent our prayers and prayer is the long underestimated antidote and cure for so many of the world’s ills. Our candles represent above all hope; hope in the present and the future, hope in God, hope in love and as many testify in the darkest moments of life, hope perseveres”.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world"
This is our hope, this is the foundation for our faith, this is the rock from which we are hewn, this is St Paul’s message and THIS IS US!