The New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference released a statement of solidarity with the country’s Muslim population following terrorist attacks on two mosques in the city of Christchurch. At least 49 people were killed in a mass shooting on March 15.
“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 shootings occured during Friday afternoon prayers at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques, and 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.
The attack at the Al Noor mosque, in which more than 40 people were killed, was broadcast on Facebook Live, and the alleged attacker published a manifesto on the internet.
An armed worshipper at the second mosque chased away the gunmen, ending the attack. Seven people were killed in Linwood.
Several people, including an Australian national have taken into police custody, and one person has been charged with murder. It is unclear how many people were involved in the attacks.
New Zealand police said that 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.”