CHRISTCHURCH: After the choir boys stopped singing, and the church-goers said Amen, Janet McKie-Chisnall sat quietly near the end of a pew, wiping tears from her eyes.
Sunday service at the Cardboard Cathedral, one of Christchurch’s most iconic tourist landmarks, was especially poignant. And not just for her.
On Sunday (Mar 17), the city was still reeling from the brutal attack on two mosques two days ago, which killed 50 and left another 50 injured.
Ms McKie-Chisnall, who is in her late 70s, said her husband died more than 40 years ago after he was shot, so the incident “just brought back a lot of memories”.
“Just thinking of all those families bereft, and what they’re going through,” she told Channel NewsAsia as congregants embraced one other. “How dare he, when people were praying in a sanctuary. That’s where you should feel safe.”
Roughly 150 people attended the prayers on Sunday, which included a sermon aimed at supporting the people of Christchurch.
Janice Marshall, 62, spent her entire weekend volunteering at the cathedral to “provide a listening ear for folk that need to talk, cry or just sit”. She said a Muslim man visited the cathedral on Saturday and just sat quietly at the back.
“It’s a safe haven for folk to come in,” Ms Marshall, who works in human resource, said. “We must stand together and show that this is not acceptable.”
The trees lining the road to Linwood mosque also seemed to stand together. Their trunks each sported a white ring and heart, some with flowers attached.
One side of the road had also been opened up, although armed police continued with their their presence on the centre divider in front of the mosque.
At the other end of the road, people young and old gathered for a moment of silence and reflection, leaving flowers, candles and colourful windmills.
Masha Oliver, who comes from Slovenia but has lived in Christchurch for the past five years, was one of them. In her hands was a little basket with bouquets of flowers. This was her first stop, Al Noor mosque was next.
“I feel like there’s no place for such things anywhere in the world,” said the 37-year-old who works in a library.
When asked how important it was for the community show solidarity in times like these, she replied: “I think it probably reminds us that we should be doing that on a daily basis, and not just in times of crisis.”
Outside the Botanic Gardens, on the opposite side of Hagley Park from where Al Noor mosque is located, well-wishers streamed in on a daily basis. The row of tributes was almost 100m long.
Luke Smillie, 40, left a flower there on Saturday, saying that he didn’t think something like this could happen in Christchurch.
“I’m pretty much shocked,” said the music tutor who has lived in Christchurch all his life. “Just really sorry that it happened here. Not just here but around the world.”
Almost at the halfway point of the row of tributes, Catherine McFedries, 39, sat near a red picnic mat with her playful children. On the mat were some coloured paper, markers and string, which people can use to pen their own heartfelt messages.
“I just thought it might be nice to have a space where people could express some of their grief, shock and sadness,” said Ms McFedries, a youth work trainer. She added that people had also dropped off fruits and water.
Ms McFedries said the first thing she did after hearing news of the attack was to cry. “This is New Zealand,” she added. “That’s just not who we are.”
The Kiwis’ true identity really shone through that Saturday evening, when police officers opened up part of the blockade on Deans Avenue leading to Al Noor mosque.
In darkness and silence, people picked up the numerous flowers and trinkets left at the start of the initial blockade, and carried them closer to the mosque. Even their pet dogs were quiet, save for the occasional whimper.
Then a group of people sang a Maori song dedicated to the fallen, bowed their heads and slowly walked away.
Ragahda Hassan, a migrant who has lived in Christchurch for two decades now, said her friend lost her husband, brother and son in the shooting.
But her own husband managed to escape the mosque relatively unscathed, bar the minor injuries on his hands and feet from smashing the windows and climbing through.
“Friends have sent me well-wishes and the community has looked after us,” said the 41-year-old who works part-time in accounting. “I am very thankful.”