A day for Christchurch to remember

Last updated 05:00 23/02/2012
Karl Drury

We remember those who died in last February's earthquake.

Christchurch Earthquake Awards - Bob Parker
David Hallett Zoom
A CITY'S BRAVERY: Mayor Bob Parker accepts a gold medal from the Royal Humane Society on behalf of Christchurch.

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The names of the dead took almost exactly 13 minutes to read in the warm, close air of Hagley Park, Christchurch.

Each of the 185 names was clear and quick, almost like an incantation; a life in two or three words. The 13 minutes had much to contain.

"In treasured memories of the past and during the days to come: We remember them," one of the prayers in honour of the earthquake victims said.

Whatever their race or nationality or status or age, those who died on February 22, 2011, were honoured by a huge noon crowd gathered yesterday in the city's signature park for a moving civic memorial service.

The New Zealand Army band played as the names were read, as if signalling life continues despite tragedy.

Two minutes' silence followed, led by the Catholic Bishop of Christchurch, the Rev Barry Jones. Only the rustling of leaves could be heard as the crowd bowed heads and cast minds back to the unforgettable day when so much changed.

The dignitaries, who included Prime Minister John Key and Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, sat on a stage facing the crowd with victims' families seated below.

Many nationalities were represented.

A New Zealand flag flew at half mast next to the stage and a flame burned in a cauldron. Mercifully the forecast rain held off.

People arrived as early as 10am.

Kerry McCorry, who brought along her Scottish cousin, Claire Humphries, twins Thomas and Benmont, 2, and Ella Rose, 5, set up camp on a rug to the side of the stage.

"I'm here," she said, "to think about the city I used to work in and those who were lost. I wanted to be part of the atmosphere here and I think it's going to be really special."

Sisters Ruth Smith and Jan Andrews clutched flowers they planned to throw in the Avon River after the service.

"I did not know anybody who died but I want to look back on the loss. It's the loss of a city. I didn't expect to get to my age and not have a city here," Andrews said.

At exactly noon the putatara (conch shell) sounded, a little shakily, to signal the start of the service.

Henare Rakiihia Tau welcomed the crowd, paying tribute to the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi and the generosity from around New Zealand and the rest of the world.

The national anthem followed, the line "in the bonds of love we meet", having special resonance given the common purpose of the day.

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker acknowledged the families who lost loved ones, saying the day would be heavy and hard for them. He acknowledged the rescuers, the injured and, in a nod to the acrimony of past months, said: "There is no blueprint. This is unexplored territory. ... We have had our differences, creative and otherwise, but that is not who we really are.

"No city has ever been more strongly united in wanting to recover, rebuild and once more be a great place to live and work ... Let us work together to build a city fit for heroes."

Sam Johnson, representing the Student Volunteer Army, and recently named Young New Zealander of the Year read Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, Verses 1-8.

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"A time to be born, and a time to die ... a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance ... a time to keep silence, and a time to speak."

People stood for the hymn How Great Thou Art, magnificently sung by Ariana Tikao who was accompanied by guitarist John Hooker.

"O Lord my God ... I hear the rolling thunder, Thy pow'r throughout the universe displayed, Then sings my soul," perhaps meant for kinder times.

Fire Service chaplain James Ullrich urged people to pray for those with the responsibilities of leadership in the recovery.

"May they listen with care and discernment to our community and be open and transparent in their decision-making. May they have wisdom, strength and courage to do what needs to be done always mindful of the responsibilities to these citizens who have entrusted them the responsibilities of public service."

Acts of remembrance were read by young people representing the Baha'i, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish faiths before the names of the dead were read.

After the two minutes' silence Mateparae read first a message from Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in which the prince offered his continuing condolences and praised the spirit of New Zealanders to overcome adversity with courage and good humour.

Mateparae said, in the strongest speech of the day, that the people of New Zealand would stand by Christchurch as it began again to build a new, vibrant city built on the foundations of a strong community.

"We have seen this community endure so much ... it has not been found wanting. I have no doubts the goal will be achieved because the people of Christchurch and Canterbury are marked by the values that make all New Zealanders strong."

A message of condolence and support from United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was broadcast on a large screen by the stage and the Linwood College Orchestra delivered a haunting interpretation of Nimrod by Elgar.

This was followed by the Voices of Hope, a video of a collection of views showing why Christchurch still had much to celebrate.

One girl said: "We have been pushed to our limits. Nothing is going to stop us because we know how far we can go as a community. We know what we can get through."

In keeping with the upbeat note, the Christchurch Pops Choir sang You Raise Me Up while 185 monarch butterflies were freed.

Some hovered over the crowd, others soared to the heights of the trees, while others seemed reluctant to leave.

Victoria Matthews, the Anglican Bishop of Christchurch, gave the final blessing.

"We have heard so much and our hearts are so full."

- The Press


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