The various faith communities of Alice Springs came together recently for a time of prayer and shared grieving following the killings at a Christchurch mosque and at Sri Lankan churches and hotels.
The interfaith gathering was the initiative of the Catholic Parish of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, which hosted the event.
Parish Priest, Fr Asaeli Raass SVD, says what started out as a parish event grew into a much broader community gathering.
“We put a notice in The Centralian newspaper, inviting people from across the community because we realised that the community of Alice Springs really needed to come together and to pray and to grieve together over what had happened at the mosque in Christchurch and with the bombs in Sri Lanka,” he says.
“So, it became a real community prayer time, praying for peace. And as it grew, the gathering became about more than what happened in Sri Lanka or Christchurch but about world peace and the shared desire for healing.”
About 150 people attended the prayer gathering held at the OLSH parish, representing the Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Taoist and Hindu communities.
Fr Nick de Groot SVD, who was working in the Alice Springs parish at the time, drew on his experience with interfaith relations at the Janssen Centre for Spirituality in Boronia, Victoria, to provide a prayer for peace from the various different faith traditions.
“Fr Raass offered these prayers for peace to the leaders of each faith community and asked if they would read the prayer for peace from their faith tradition during the liturgy,” Fr Nick says.
“So, the leaders came forward and one by one, they prayed the prayer for peace. It was very powerful.”
The service began with the lights in the main church being turned out and Fr Raass processing in with the Easter candle, while Fr Nick explained its significance to the congregation.
“I spoke of the fire and the light representing the light of care and blessing from beyond,” he says.
Then representatives of the Sri Lankan Christian community and the Muslim community came to the altar and lit five candles each, in memory of those who had died in Sri Lanka and Christchurch. A small New Zealand choir sang beautiful music throughout.
A shared cup of tea and coffee and light supper followed at the end of the service.
“It was really good. I was happy that we could all pray together,” Fr Raass says.
“I was actually surprised to see how many people turned up, so I think people were looking for something healing like this.”
Fr Raass says the Alice Springs parish is committed to pursuing interfaith relations in Central Australia and is looking to hold more events later this year.