The remembrance service Ko Tatou, Tatou We Are One took place in Hagley Park this morning with thousands in attendance, including several dignitaries. The response so far to the terror attack has shown the world the emotional side of the people of New Zealand. But this service, as urged by PM Jacinda Ardern, is also a call-to-action, to introspect over how we discount casual acts of racism and ignorance.

“Our challenge now is to make the very best of us a daily reality. Remember the tears of the nation and the new resolve gained,” Jacinda Arden said.

Events included invocation of dua, addresses by local dignitaries, Muslim leaders, survivor Farid Ahmed, and musical performances — all in all, a space for collective grieving, as people cried and held each other throughout.

The service called for the biggest exercise in security since the terror attack, Police Commissioner Mike Bush revealed.

It was also an exercise in humanity in all its diverse manifestations.

Some of the highlights are as follows:

It started with an address by Dr Te Maire Tau of Ngai Tahu, who sought to inspire the nation with the Maori way of grieving: “We understand there is a world where pain no longer exists, it is numb and beyond feeling — we call this world te kore, the world of nothing. It is the task of our women, who you hear keening, to call you and bring you back into the world of light — which is where we are now.  We have to call you back to the world of pain and joy because these feelings make us human. So commence your return back to tearomarama, the world of light. Return to the treasures we share as people, the enchantment of human love, of fellowship and goodwill.”

World-renowned musician Yusuf Islam (previously Cat Stevens), who read the Koran after a near-death experience and converted to Islam in 1977, said, “Only when good people stay sitting that evil rises and we’ve seen the opposite in this country.”

Next was Farid Ahmed, who lost his wife at Al Noor mosque but survived himself. He waved hello, the crowd waved back. He spoke about how he does not hate the shooter as he is his brother, just as every human being is his sister and brother. He also said, “I have a faith. I believe in Allah, and Allah says that if we forgive one another, then he loves me. He loves us." Farid’s magnanimity was met with a standing ovation.

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said after service concluded to RNZ, “This coming together is what makes the difference. They came and wanted to feel a part of today, a part of the future where we reach out to all the communities. This is the beginning of something really important.”

Governor General Dame Patsy Reddy said,  “We must stand up to confront lazy assumptions, presumptions and willful ignorance so that it’s easier to drive away unacceptable behaviour.” She then recited a Maori proverb that translated to a cold wind chills us, love and goodwill restore us.

Then took the stage PM Jacinda Ardern, greeted with a standing ovation and thundering applause.

“Racism exists but it is not welcome here. An assault on the freedom of anyone of us who practices their faith or religion is not welcome here. Violence and extremism is not welcome here … We have work to do but do not leave the job of combatting hate to the government alone… the world has been stuck in a vicious cycle of extremism breeding extremism and it must end. We cannot confront these issues alone.”

Later came a heart-rending moment when two daughters took the name of their father who passed away, “Ashraf Al-Masri. He was a really nice man. Thank you.”

The importance of coexistence was summed up well by Fariz Ahmed when he redefined what ‘garden city’ stood for. He said just as the flowers in the garden in Christchurch peacefully coexist despite being different, we all must strive for the same. “Together we are a beautiful garden,” he said. 

There may have been words echoed at the service that has been said before; vigils and tributes already seen; opinions, emotions, embraces previously shared but it was antecedence of sorts — can we challenge ourselves and learn and unlearn?