Taranaki comes together for candlelight vigil

A stirring call to prayer and a heartwarming rendition of Lean on Me echoed out across a candlelight vigil in Taranaki on Friday night.

Love, togetherness, and peace were the central messages of the emotional commemoration.

Thousands of people filled the TSB Bowl of Brooklands to pay tribute to the victims of last week’s deadly terrorist attack in Christchurch.

United, people of all cultures joined together in Māori karakia, Muslim prayer, and the singing of songs in Arabic, English and Māori. They also lit candles to honour the 50 people who died in the mosque attacks.

The poignant night left people visibly moved, with many embracing each other in solidarity.

New Plymouth Girls’ High School student Adriana Che Ismail spoke at the vigil and told the crowd that many of the Christchurch victims had come to New Zealand to escape violence in their own countries.

“Fifty people died in the house of God. Fifty people died praying for the people they loved, praying for their health, praying for a safe and happy life,” she said.

She went on to say that when she heard what had happened in Christchurch she felt sad and scared in a way that she had never felt before.

“But when I attended the memorial prayers on Saturday I saw the flowers and the loving messages left outside the mosque and my heart began to heal.

“As I see the response from all of New Zealand, as I feel the love and support we have for each other, my heart is beginning to heal… My heart is swelling with the kindness, generosity and compassion of this country and its beautiful people.”

She called on people to take care of each other in the coming weeks and to let friends and family know they are loved.

“To my Muslim friends, I know these are scary times, but be brave, for all of us, be brave.

“I know you might be scared, but we are stronger when we are united. Please be brave, be strong – because that is who we are as New Zealanders.”

Mayor Neil Holdom thanked the large crowd for coming together and showing aroha.

“Thank you for your presence, thank you for showing you care, thank you for sending a message to our Muslim community that you are here for them and that we stand together, determined to make New Zealand a better place and drive away this darkness with light and love,” Holdom said.

“Our standing here in these numbers has power. It speaks volumes. This is what love and community connections looks like and it is a powerful force for good.”

Holdom also paid tribute to the Police force for their efforts during the terrorist attack, and talked about the way forward from this tragedy.

New Plymouth district mayor Neil Holdom, left, with Migrant Connections chair Lane Mephan, Migrant Connections coordinator Gheeta Kutty and Muslim Association of Taranaki secretary Omar Siddiqui.

“Our response must be one that reflects New Zealand’s culture and values, we must pull together, show compassion and love for those most impacted by this dreadful deed.”

The evening ended with the Muslim community sharing their sunset prayers near the front of the stage, before a powerful haka closed out the night.

The event was organised by the Muslim Association of Taranaki, Migrant Connections Taranaki, local iwi and hapū and the New Plymouth District Council.

By Taryn Utiger