To Christchurch: From Cooma, with love
When a man with a gun stole the lives of 50 people in Christchurch last month, the impact was profound and widespread. Beyond those killed or injured and their loved ones, beyond a city and a nation in mourning, people around the world struggled to comprehend the barbarity of the slaughter and grappled with a sense of impotence and powerlessness at not being able to help in some way.
Because what can you do?
“You can love,” said Frances Robertson, Principal of St Patrick’s Parish School in Cooma.
As one small gesture of love, compassion and solidarity, the Catholic community of Cooma has built a prayer chain made up of individual message links from the students and parishioners.
“The idea originally came from Fr Mick [McAndrew] as a combined Parish / School initiative in response to the massacre at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch,” Ms Robertson said.
“Because we are so connected in our parish, we believe it’s really important that we often do things together and this was a perfect way for us to do that. So both parishioners and school children from Kindergarten to Year 10, and staff, have all contributed to this prayer chain.”
The prayer chain has offered an opportunity for the community to do something practical to express their sadness and support.
One of the difficulties inherent in broaching a tragedy like the Christchurch massacre with children is the importance of not upsetting them unduly or over-sharing information they don’t really need or are unable to absorb or comprehend.
Conscious of that, the school took a very different approach for children at various age points.
“For the children in Kindergarten, we simply talked about how some people are hurting in another country, so let’s send some loving kindness to them,” said Ms Robertson.
“And if you look at the Kindergarten prayer chains, they have their names and a pretty picture; it might have a hug and a kiss on it, or a smiley face.
“For the Year 10s it was very different. They did analysis of the media, they visited a Canberra mosque, they explored extremism and how it is counter to what we actually believe… gentleness, love and compassion. You know, clothe yourself in those things, from Corinthians. So it was a more complex response for them.”
“The Year 10s had already been scheduled to attend the cathedral, a mosque and a synagogue in Canberra as part of their Interfaith studies and this offered them an opportunity to express their condolences in a very direct way to the Imam at the mosque in Yarralumla.
“It also meant that the students had a heightened awareness that a mosque is a place of prayer and that people who come to prayer come with love in their hearts and a belief in their God. And the massacre was even more terrible because that was violated. There was a real resonance with that and it was very timely, so we approached the topic in very different ways across the age spectrum.”
The next step of the process will be boxing up the prayer chain and sending it to the Al Noor mosque in New Zealand. Ms Robertson said it wasn’t important if the box was even opened at the other end or, or if it was boxed away in storage.
“This was an opportunity in expressing our love, our compassion, to others in pain,” she said.
“If they see, from a little country town in Australia that we remembered them and are thinking of them, that may touch someone or ease someone’s burden, even a little and that would be great.
“From our school to New Zealand, it’s just one simple gesture of compassion. Whenever we are presented with opportunities to reach out or build bridges, we should take them.”