It has been just 6 weeks since the Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks, and the The Duke of Cambridge flew to New Zealand for a two-day visit in response to Jacinda Ardern’s request for a senior Royal to visit.
Prince William touched down in Auckland on Thursday and was met by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who welcomed him with a Maori nose press, a ‘Hongi’. Ardern said his visit would “bring comfort” to New Zealand.
The attacks began at the Al Noor Mosque and continued at the Linwood Islamic Centre killing 50 people and injuring 50 others. Prince William met with emergency services, victims and their family members to support and learn more about their experiences.
Prince William started his two-day visit by attending an ANZAC Day memorial service, New Zealand and Australia’s national day of remembrance. He was greeted at the Auckland War Memorial Museum with a karanga (exchange of calls) as part of a powhiri, a Maori welcome ceremony. Other dignitaries were also present.
Meanwhile, Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry were joined by The Duke of Gloucester to commemorate ANZAC Day in London.
Attendees at the service commemorated the victims of the Christchurch mosque attacks.
New Zealand naval commander James Gilmour called the attacks “a cruel nightmare,” saying: “As a nation, we are still grieving for the loss.”
The Duke of Cambridge went on to lay a wreath on behalf of his grandmother, The Queen at the Auckland cenotaph.
After the service, he went on to Starship Children’s Hospital where he met 4-year-old Alen Alsati and her father Wasseim. Both were injured in the mosque attacks; Alen suffered critical injuries and awoke from a coma this week.
He posed for a photo with the family.
In Christchurch, William met first responders at the Justice and Emergency Services Precinct. “You did an incredible job on a very bad day,” he said thanking them for their efforts.
He has a natural rapport and affinity with first responders, having served as an air ambulance helicopter pilot for five years with the RAF’s Search and Rescue Force, and later with the air ambulance service in East Anglia.
Mike Bush, Police Commissioner, commented: “If I could use the words he used to our staff, ‘a good friend doesn’t pick up the phone when a person is in need. They travel to their place and put their arms around them’.”
The Royal was reported as saying: “Nothing really trains you for seeing it in real life. I’m sure the team pulls together.”
On day 2 of his visit, Friday, William met with staff and survivors of the mosque attacks at the hospital, where dozens of the injured were treated. Hospital chiefs have previously told how surgeons and staff worked through the night to save lives in the aftermath of the shootings.
William met with Dr John Wood, chairman of the Canterbury Health Board, and Greg Robertson, director of surgery, as well as general manager Pauline Clark and nursing director Lynne Johnson.
The Duke then went onto the Masjid Al Noor mosque where 42 died in a terrorist attack.
William removed his shoes before entering the mosque and was greeted by Imam Gamel Fouda as well as prime minister Jacinda Ardern and mayor of Christchurch Lianne Dalziel.
Approximately 160 members of the local Muslim community gathered at the mosque for the Duke’s visit.
Whilst there he met Farid Ahmad, who was injured during the attack on the Al Noor mosque and lost his wife Husna Ahmad who broke down as he welcomed William.
“Right now my heart is aching. I’m feeling the pain. I lost my wife, I lost many people here. I would like to say to the victims, you are not alone. We share your pain and we are together. Your Royal Highness, you are an inspiration for the world,” the local said.
In a speech to the gathered community, the future King spoke movingly about the example New Zealand had showed the world in the wake of the tragedy saying: “On March 15, tragedy unfolded in this room. A terrorist attempted to sow division and hatred in a place that stands for togetherness and selflessness. He thought he could redefine what this place was. I’m here to help you show the world that he failed.”
Explaining how he “couldn’t believe the news” when he woke up on the morning of March 15, William described it as “an unspeakable act of hate”.
“The message from Christchurch and the message from Al Noor and Linwood mosques could not be more clear – the global ideology of hate will fail to divide us.” — The Duke of Cambridge ?? pic.twitter.com/u3dL88z9rB
— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) April 26, 2019
The Duke said Christchurch has endured “so much more than its fair share of hardship”.
He added: “I have known New Zealanders from the earliest moments of my life, that you are people who look out to the world with optimism. You have a warm-hearted interest about cultures, religions and people thousands of miles from your shores.
“In a moment of acute pain, you stood up and you stood together. In reaction to tragedy you achieved something remarkable.”
The Royal also hinted at his own grief after the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. He said: “I’ve had reason myself to reflect on grief, sudden pain and loss in my own life.
“What I’ve realised is that of course grief can change your outlook, you don’t forget the shock and sadness or pain, but I do not believe grief changes who you are.
“If you let it, it will reveal who you are. It will reveal depths you did not know you had.”
He then went on to speak to families inside the mosque accompanied by Imam Gamal Fouda.
Talking to a woman holding a young girl, Prince William said: “I’m so sorry this has happened to you. It should never have.”
He said: “Extremism in all its forms must be defeated. The message from Christchurch and the message from Al Noor and Linwood mosques could not be more clear: the global ideology of hate will fail to divide us.”
At the mosque, he said in a speech: “To the people of New Zealand and the people of Christchurch – to our Muslim community and all those who have rallied to your side: I stand with you in gratitude for what you have taught the world these past weeks.
“An act of violence was designed to change New Zealand, but instead the grief of a nation revealed just how deep the values of warmth, compassion and love really run.”
Meeting with Muslim Community leaders, William thanked them for their work in bringing the community together following the attacks saying: “To the people of New Zealand and the people of Christchurch – to our Muslim community and all those who have rallied to your side: I stand with you in gratitude for what you have taught the world these past weeks”
In a rare move for a Royal, the Duke then went onto hail Ardern’s contribution in her nation’s troubled times “Your Prime Minister has shown extraordinary leadership of compassion and resolve, providing an example to us all.”
The Duke of Cambridge also paid his respects at the Oi Manawa Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial, which was built to commemorate the 2010/2011 earthquakes.
“In remembrance of those we lost.” – The Duke of Cambridge pays his respects at the Oi Manawa Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial.
The memorial is a place to reflect on the 2010/2011 earthquakes that changed Greater Christchurch forever. pic.twitter.com/avNmiG1PNI
— Kensington Palace (@KensingtonRoyal) April 26, 2019
In a more light-hearted part of the visit, William was warmly welcomed by the locals, and spent time on a walkabout, greeting them and talking to them.
The Duke last visited New Zealand in 2014, with his wife, Kate and Prince George.
William flew home last night.