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New Zealand churches mark anniversary of devastating earthquake

AS Christians worldwide marked the beginning of Lent, New Zealand church leaders gathered with Christchurch residents to mark the first anniversary of the 6.3 magnitude earthquake that devastated the city one year ago.

Some who attended commemorative church services on Ash Wednesday received ashes marked on the forehead in the form of a cross, symbolizing undying hope in the midst of loss and suffering.

Others scattered ashes of loved ones.

At the main outdoor service at Hagley Park, attended by 20,000 people, the names of 185 people who died in the quake were read by police, fire and hospital chaplains and other emergency services personnel.

The city’s Catholic bishop, Barry Jones, introduced two minutes’ silence at 12:51 pm, the time the 22 February quake struck, concluding with a prayer for victims and those affected by the earthquake.

"Your son Jesus showed himself to be the physician of souls.

May those burdened by fear, anxiety, worry and hopelessness, know your healing hand," he said.

The Anglican bishop of Christchurch, Victoria Matthews, closed the service with a prayer.

"Hearts are so full.

For those who have lost loved ones, who have been injured mentally, physically and spiritually, we wish you God’s peace," she said.

Matthews lost her home and the diocese lost its cathedral and a number of churches.

In the case of one building that required immediate demolition, Matthews had to perform the deconsecration in hard hat and a raincoat, as there was no time to get episcopal robes.

A decision on the future of ChristChurch Anglican Cathedral, which lost its spire and famed rose window and suffered further damage in December, will be made next month after results of new engineering assessments.

The seriously damaged Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament may be rebuilt, pending assessments.

A total of 140 groups, including the Christchurch City Mission, Christchurch Methodist Mission Grace Vineyard Christian Fellowship, and Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, were presented with Christchurch Earthquake Awards of Service in a ceremony after the Hagley Park service.