And that was the spirit of being a New Zealander

And that was the spirit of being a New Zealander

Asoka Basnayake

On the pious Easter Sunday, I heard about a bomb blast in a luxury hotel in Sri Lanka and quickly found out about the atrocious massacres that had unfolded in the country of my birth. The nightmare continued for the next few days.

I want to dwell on how my fellow Sri Lankans in New Zealand dealt with the aftermath of the bomb attacks. The first event, organised by Jason Bandara, a young musician and a friend in Aotea Square in Auckland was very moving. I watched how grief-stricken Sri Lankans mingled with fellow New Zealanders in pouring rain, waving their Lion flags at the Kia Kaha. Despite the short notice, several hundreds of people attended.

Hope for the morrow

Tears welled in my eyes as Don Dilantha, another young musician, picked up a guitar and broke into an impromptu song which had a very appropriate message for all of us: “Pray that all people in the world become children of one race; A world where there are no debates, no divisions; will dawn on us tomorrow; Humanity thrown out – pride in racism; Hatred has created divisions – man has got lost.”

The next few days saw many other groups organise vigils and prayers and Sri Lankan Kiwis forgot about their divisions and supported each other at all of these events.

St Theresa’s Catholic Church in Mount Roskill witnessed a very well-attended Mass in memory of the victims (mostly Catholic), who were targeted while they were at prayer on the holiest day of the Catholic calendar.

Interfaith meetings

A Buddhist Priest led a large gathering of Buddhists, many Muslims in their traditional hats and hijabs, a large number of Hindu and other Christian faiths sang hymns and lit candles and it was heart-warming to see the love that flowed.

The Tamil Community held a vigil at Aotea Square on Friday which was attended by many despites of being a weeknight.

The Buddhist Temple Sri Lankaramaya in Otahuhu held a prayer session attended by a full congregation including Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni and Ethnic Communities Minister Jenny Salesa who lit floating candles before prayers.

On the same night, the New Zealand Sri Lanka Foundation held a multifaith vigil at Saint Pauls Church in Remuera, which included Catholic, Methodist, Buddhist, Islamic and Hindu prayers in a packed hall.

Another Catholic Mass held in Northcote was also reported to be well attended despite the community having three separate events on the same day at the same time.

Muslims keep vigil

The New Zealand Muslim community organised a vigil at Western Springs on Sunday, April 28, 2019.. This event was attended by leaders of the Muslim Community including New Zealand Muslim Association President Ikhlaq Kashkari whose message moved many to tears. It was touching to see Indian, Fijian, Maori and other Muslims supporting their Sri Lankan brothers and sisters in their time of grief.

Many Members of Parliament from different political parties including Ministers attended these events to support the Sri Lankan community.

It is humbling to see the love and compassion that flowed from a horrific event and I want to acknowledge all the Sri Lankan organisations in Auckland and the public who have rallied round our community. I hope this unity and working together will continue to support and heal and enable us all to continue living peacefully in our beautiful country.

Asoka Basnayake represents the Sri Lankan community in the multicultural sector of New Zealand in various governance roles and in other capacities.

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Photo Caption:

Ethnic Community Jenny Salesa keeping a vigil in Auckland on Sunday, April 28, 2019

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