A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Reflection: Earthquake Anniversary 22 Feb 2011

Ash CrossThis year Ash Wednesday marks the first anniversary of the devastating February 22 earthquake in Christchurch – a shocking confrontation with the reality of the Ash Wednesday exhortation: “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you will return.” That fateful day we didn’t need any ritual reminder of our mortality.  It was all around us – in the dust that rose from the crashing of the Christchurch Cathedral spire and the domes of the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral; in the fallen masonry in the streets of the central city; in the liquefaction which flooded our gardens and homes – in the roads which split open and the cliffs which buried them; but most of all in the deaths of 181 of our citizens, many from overseas. A day which plunged our city into a period of unprecedented terror, turmoil and destruction, with which we still live.

Today I walked into Cathedral Square for the first time since the earthquakes. Hundreds of citizens took advantage of a break in the demolition to be escorted into the centre of the city. It was like walking the Stations of the Cross.  So much destruction. So much of what was still standing, yet to be demolished.  The mood was sombre. It was the end of my life as I knew it. Memories of the Square dating back to 1962 flooded into consciousness as I stood in silence. I knew it would be the last time I would see it as it was. It felt too big to take in. Yet seeing so much devastation I encountered more urgently the eternal truth celebrated every Ash Wednesday - ‘“remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return”.  The ruins, the cracked roads, our damaged homes, our dislocated schools and businesses – a sobering reminder that our sojourn on this planet is so very, very short.

Our broken city is a powerful symbol. It calls us to focus on the one thing necessary:  “turn away from sin” … from all that hinders right relationship with God, … “and be faithful to the gospel ” - pursue justice, truth and love for all.  The ‘ashes’ of our broken city are indelibly crossed on our hearts – a permanent reminder of the Paschal Mystery – and the ultimate triumph of life over death.  As we enter this particularly poignant Lenten season, may we join in solidarity, not only with the people of Christchurch, but with all who suffer in our country and throughout the world so that the Risen One  may be found even more deeply in our hearts, and dwell among all who live on this fragile planet earth we call home.

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