New Zealanders Remember Quake Victims at Church Services

Thousands of faithful in Christchurch, New Zealand remembered victims of last Tuesday's 6.3 earthquake during services this weekend.

Several congregations held their services in the open air because their church buildings were damaged in the quake.

"It's a time where you open your heart to God," Lyndsay Freer, Auckland Catholic Diocese spokesperson told NZPA. "It's about coming together to pray for those affected by the earthquake."

"God didn't cause the earthquake to happen," she added. "For some it might be a test of their faith, but for most it will make us more steadfast in our faith."

So far, 154 people have been counted dead from the quake, which left downtown Christchurch in ruins. Observers expect the toll to rise beyond 200.

Hi-rise office buildings were leveled in the quake as well as two historic churches, including Christchurch Cathedral, an Anglican Church, and the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, a Roman Catholic parish.

Anglican Bishops Victoria Matthews, John Gray, and Archbishop David Moxon from Christchurch Otautahi offered their condolences on Saturday for those grieving.

"To the bereaved and those who are still awaiting news of missing friends and family, the Hui Amorangi, the Diocese and the Province offer prayer in the power of the Holy Spirit, knowing that suffering has always been part of Christian experience," the bishops wrote.

"We also ask prayer for all those involved in the cleanup, the search and rescue operations and pastoral care at this difficult time," they added. "While we have been reminded in no uncertain terms that we are not in control, we hold fast to our faith in the Sovereign God and pray for the strength and grace to minister Christ's presence."

On Tuesday afternoon, Christchurch residents will observe two minutes of silence at 12:51 p.m., exactly one week after the quake struck. Mayor Bob Parker said that the observance was about the city "standing together."

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