Thousands across New Zealand observed two minutes of silence in churches and public squares on 1 March 2011 in memory of the victims of the 22 February earthquake that devastated Christchurch, the country's second-largest city - writes David Crampton.
As of 1 March, the death toll from the 6.3-magnitude quake stood at 154, with more than 200 missing and thousands injured.
In Christchurch, Prime Minister John Key, who called for the moments of silence, and the leader of the opposition, Phil Goff, joined international search and rescue staff, emergency services, defence forces and staff and volunteers at the Emergency Operations Centre. A small pile of bricks and concrete lay in front of the dignitaries, representative of key sites within the central business district that were destroyed. Amongst the rubble was a lone brick from the damaged Anglican ChristChurch Cathedral and a single New Zealand fern.
Christchurch Anglican Bishop Victoria Matthews offered prayers for both the dead and the living before Dean Peter Beck, whose cathedral has 22 people unaccounted for in the ruins, then read the 23rd Psalm, and Matthews concluded with a blessing. Search and rescue workers throughout the city paused in their labours.
A vigil was held on the steps of Parliament in the capital, Wellington. Led by Wellington's Anglican Dean, the Very Rev. Frank Nelson, it was attended by Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English, church and faith representatives, parliamentarians and members of the diplomatic corps.
Nelson lead the opening prayers: "We meet in the presence of God, who knows our needs, hears our cries, feels our pain, and calms our fears." English, a devout Catholic, focused on those who have lost family members: "Our loved ones mean more, and our anxieties mean less."
Nelson quoted his colleague Beck, who had said, "This is not an Act of God, this is the earth doing what it does. The act of God is how we love each other, how we reach out to one another." In Australia, Parliament also observed silence for the quake victims.
Among those at the vigil were Dee and Peter Duffin, who are among the many Christchurch residents (estimates are one in seven) who have left the city for temporary shelter. They said they were fortunate to have family in Wellington and found the service "humbling."
At the close of the vigil, the bells of nearby Wellington Anglican Cathedral of St. Paul rang a half-muffled peal for 10 minutes. Nelson, who had family members who lost their homes in the earthquake, told ENInews after the vigil that it is difficult to express hope and comfort in times of tragedy. "It’s a really tough one. People need to be given the space to express themselves. There is no right way to grieve. Everybody is affected, the whole country is grieving," he said.
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]