It was at this mosque that the chief suspect, now in custody and charged with murder, began to broadcast his initial act of terrorism to an international audience, gunning down worshipers — men, women and children — attending Friday prayers. Forty-one of the 50 dead from the attacks were killed at Al Noor.
As distant but audible helicopters hovered overhead and pairs of police officers patrolled occasionally through the crowd, the ceremony opened with a traditional Maori call of welcome to the official party, headed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
In attendance were representatives of 59 nations, including top officials from neighboring Australia: Prime Minister Scott Morrison, opposition leader Bill Shorten and Governor General Peter Cosgrove. Pacific neighbors Fiji, French Polynesia, Samoa and Tokelau sent some of their most senior political figures, including heads of state.
The British royal family was not represented at Friday’s ceremony; instead, Prince William is expected to visit Christchurch next month.
The crowd listened to the speeches and songs that followed with respectful reserve, occasionally breaking out into cheers, even standing ovations.
Farid Ahmed, a survivor of the first mosque attack, was welcomed to sustained applause. Speaking from a wheelchair, he offered forgiveness for the accused killer, even though his wife was among the victims.
“I don’t want to have a heart that is boiling like a volcano,” he said in a poignant speech interspersed with sung prayers in Arabic.
Shortly after, the crowd stood as the names of the dead were read out by a group of speakers from the Muslim community in turn. This was followed by a performance by visiting singer-songwriter Yusuf Islam, previously known as Cat Stevens, which included the song “Peace Train.”
Ardern, who was wearing a Korowai (a Maori cloak, considered a sign of prestige and honor), reiterated her solidarity and support for the Muslim community and repeated her calls for a global response to tackling hate speech and extremism.
“The world has been stuck in a vicious cycle of extremism breeding extremism, and it must end,” she said.
Ardern then paid tribute to the first responders before closing with a passage from the New Zealand national anthem, which began: “Men of every creed and race, gather here before Thy face, asking Thee to bless this place God defend our free land.”
Perhaps the most poignant moment came when two young members of the Muslim community came forward to offer a few words about the father they had lost in the violence. “He was a really nice man,” one of the daughters said, evoking palpable sympathy and some silent tears.
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel, speaking to The Washington Post later, echoed the prime minister’s call to tackle extremism and hate speech.
“If you give comfort to people who have extremist views, then this is how it ends,” she said, referring to the events of March 15.
Munir Shah, a Muslim immigrant from Pakistan who lost at least two of his friends in the attacks, said that despite the unprecedented tragedy, he felt more welcome in New Zealand than ever before.
While there are occasional instances of racism, he said, the response to the attacks, including Friday’s service, conveyed the message that “you are looked after; you are considered . . . a part of New Zealand.”