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World March 15, 2019

Pope Francis, NZ bishops mourn mosque attacks

By Courtney Grogan

The Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in a 2014 photo. The mosque was one of two attacked March 15, leaving at least 49 people killed. (CNS photo/Martin Hunter, Reuters) 

VATICAN CITY (CNA)—Pope Francis mourned “senseless acts of violence” against innocent life after the New Zealand mosque attacks that killed at least 49 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch.

The Pope assured all New Zealanders, in particular the Muslim community, of “his heartfelt solidarity in the wake of these attacks,” in a telegram sent on his behalf by the Vatican Secretary of State March 15.

New Zealand officials say one man in his late 20s has been charged with murder, and two other armed suspects have been taken into police custody. The attacks centered on the Masjid Al Noor and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, Friday afternoon.

The attack at the Al Noor mosque, in which more than 40 people were killed, was broadcast on Facebook Live, and one of the attackers broadcast the murders live on Facebook. A manifesto was published on the Internet.  The police also found two explosive devices attached to a vehicle.

The attack took place during Friday prayer at the mosques. At least 48 people were injured in addition to the 49 confirmed dead.

“Commending those who have died to the loving mercy of Almighty God, Pope Francis invokes the divine blessings of comfort and strength upon the nation,” it stated.

Pope Francis said he will continue to pray for “the healing of the injured, the consolation of those who grieve the loss of their loved ones, and for all affected by this tragedy.”

The attacks have prompted an outpouring of condolences and solidarity across the international community.

The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference released a statement of solidarity with the country’s Muslim population.

“We hold you in prayer as we hear the terrible news of violence against Muslims at mosques in Christchurch,” the country’s six bishops wrote in a joint letter.

The bishops said they were “profoundly aware” of the “positive relationships” New Zealand Catholics enjoyed with their Muslim neighbors.

The bishops said they were “particularly horrified” that the attacks coincided with acts of worship.

“We are deeply saddened that people have been killed and injured, and our hearts go out to them, their families and wider community. We wish you to be aware of our solidarity with you in the face of such violence,” said the bishops.

An armed worshipper at the second mosque chased away the gunmen, ending the attack. Seven people were killed in Linwood.

New Zealand police said several improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were found in a car near the Al Noor mosque. These were disabled before they could be detonated.

Other prominent Catholic figures expressed condolences to those affected by the attack.

“I share [Pope Francis’] deep sadness and grief over the deadly violence in Christchurch. No one should have to fear something like this, perpetrated as they worship. We cannot tolerate hatred of or prejudice against any of the Lord's children,” said New York archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan in a message posted to Twitter.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster expressed similar sentiment.

“The news of the massacre in the New Zealand mosques is deeply shocking and has caused us all great pain. We pray for the many victims, for the wounded and for the whole community, which has been severely affected by this act of terrorism,” said Nichols.

“May God free us from these tragedies and sustain the efforts of all those who work for peace, harmony and coexistence."