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Community candlelight vigils honour Bondi victims

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Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024

Hundreds of people from across Sydney ended the city’s most horrific week in years by gathering at two candlelight vigils to commemorate the victims of Bondi’s knife attack.

At Holy Cross Catholic Church, less than 100 metres from Bondi Junction Westfield, Bishop Richard Umbers celebrated a Vigil Mass followed by a prayer service on 20 April.

It was followed by an outdoor candlelight service at Bondi Pavilion on 21 April attended by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, Governor Margaret Beazley and New South Wales Premier Chris Minns.

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Ashlee Good, 38, Dawn Singleton, 25, Jade Young, 47, Pikria Darchia, 55, and Yixuan Cheng, 27 and Faraz Tahir, 30 were killed and around a dozen injured when Joel Cauchi, 40, who had a long history of mental illness, launched his attack in the Westfield on 13 April before he was shot by police officer Amy Scott and died at the scene.

New South Wales Opposition Leader Mark Speakman, Member for Vaucluse Kelly Sloan and local school leaders and parishioners from across Sydney lit candles at the prayer vigil at Holy Cross along with parish priest Fr Terrence Millard.

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024

Speakman told The Catholic Weekly he was pleased to see a “very strong” united response from religious leaders to both the Bondi tragedy and the separate attack on Assyrian bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel at his church in Wakeley two days later.

“It’s been terrific to see Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, all faiths come together and show what a united community we have,” he said.

“The reactions here of the first responders and bystanders, the bravery they showed was terrific, as was the instinctive reaction in Western Sydney on Monday night of Christian and Muslim leaders straight away to unite and say we stand for peace and harmony and non-violence.”

Holding candles lit from the church’s Paschal candle in the darkened church on the Saturday evening, attendees listened to God’s promise that “there will be no more death” from the Book of Revelation.

In his homily, Bishop Umbers commended the police officer, security guards, and bystanders who “showed courage in the face of danger” but acknowledged that “we ourselves are still in shock that such acts of violence could happen here.”

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024

“How do we make sense of something that itself is senseless, why does innocence suffer?” he asked.

“Somehow, we take our ultimate solace in knowing that God is light.

“Despite what we have experienced here, no matter how broken or ugly or tragic, it is not divine will.”

Also present were Louise Minogue, principal at Holy Cross Catholic Primary School and Loretta Lam, assistant principal at Galilee Catholic Primary School in Bondi.

Both school leaders said they had kept in touch with their school communities through the week.

While they had not spoken to anyone directly involved in the Bondi attack they were preparing to support families when classes resume after the school holidays.

“Many of our families are away, and I’m hopeful that means that nobody had been in Westfield at that time,” said Minogue.

“But we won’t know the extent of it until we go back to school and it’s very important as a school community that we gather together like this on their return.”

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024

On Sunday, Albanese offered condolences on behalf of the community and nation to the loved ones of the victims.

He also spoke of the bravery of Scott, the security guards and responders and “the everyday people who could never have imagined they would face such a moment.

“And yet when that sternest test arrived, their first instinct was to help others at risk for themselves, people they did not know,” he said.

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