The diverse New Zealand Sri Lankan community rallied round in disbelief and grief following the atrocious massacres of Easter Sunday on April 21, 2019.
Terrorist suicide bombers killed over 250 innocent people at several churches in Colombo and its suburbs and Batticaloa in the East Coast and in three luxury hotels in the Capital. About 50 of the victims were foreign nationals. The Island Nation which stopped a 30-year civil war only 10 years ago was just rebuilding and had reached the top of Trip Advisor’s Top Travel Destinations only recently when this atrocity happened.
In my role as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Minister of Ethnic Communities, and along with some of my Parliamentary colleagues, I attended several community gatherings to offer support to the ethnically and religiously diverse Sri Lankan community following the attacks.
Support and Consolation
They were sad occasions but I was impressed by the way the Sri Lankan Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Buddhists, Catholics, Hindus, Anglicans, Methodists and people from across the Kiwi Sri Lankan community all supported each other at vigils and prayer sessions.
As MPs, we wanted to directly express our solidarity with the Sri Lankan community by organising an interfaith community gathering on Saturday, May 4, 2019.
Many members of the community belonging to various organisations attended the event, and were greatly encouraged by the presence of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at the Bhartiya Mandir Community Hall in Auckland. Among the others present were Ministers Jenny Salesa (Ethnic Communities), Willie Jackson (Employment) Aupito Sio Williams (Pacific Peoples) Members of Parliament Dr Deborah Russell, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Louisa Wall Marja Lubeck and myself.
Ms Ardern said that she was deeply shocked by the Easter Sunday bomb attacks and had sent paid a tribute to the Sri Lankan community for their solidarity and united stand.
Compassion and Solidarity
“As a nation, we stand in compassion and solidarity with our Sri Lankan brothers and sisters. And we will stand with them in the future. The challenges that we now face are not local and are global. We need to stand against all forms of violence and terrorism. We have the right to worship safely and now it is clear we must focus in finding the strength and value of harmonious communities where all people are safe. We must find the answers to end violence and to strengthen our resolve to end violence reaffirming our shared values as New Zealanders together. I hope we will prevent these tragedies from happening again,” she said.
Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic, Muslim, Anglican, Jewish and Methodist prayers were held, led by the respective priests. Among them were Rewatha (Sri Lankaramaya Buddhist Temple) Acharya Upendra Joshi (Bhartiya Mandir), Father Jude Algamage (Catholic Church), Reverend Bruce Keeley (Holy Trinity Cathedral) Ikhlaq Kashkari (New Zealand Muslim Association) and Mohammed Nalar (Sri Lankan Muslim Association), Naomi Johnson (Beth Shalom Ritual Committee), Dr Sydney Fernando (Methodist Church) and Auckland Jewry (Jewish Prayer).
Sri Lankan musicians Jason Bandara and Don Dilantha presented a musical interlude.
Among the other speakers were Ms Salesa, Superintendent Karyn Malthus, District Commander, Auckland City District Police and Ms Radhakrishnan.
Michael Wood is elected Member of Parliament from Mt Roskill Constituency and Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Ethnic Communities Minister.