Kia kaha, Prince tells mourners

Prince William arrives in Christchurch for the Memorial Service for the victims of the Christchurch 6.3 earthquake. Photo / Pool coverage
Prince William arrives in Christchurch for the Memorial Service for the victims of the Christchurch 6.3 earthquake. Photo / Pool coverage

Prince William has spoken to tens of thousands of mourners at today's memorial service for Christchurch's earthquake victims in Hagley Park, 24 days after the quake ripped through the city.

"My grandmother once said grief is the price you pay for love," the Prince told the crowd, passing on his condolences from the royal family.

He said the determination of Cantabrians was known around the world.

"You are an inspiration to all people. I count myself enormously privileged to be here to tell you that.

"Kia kaha, be strong."

The Prince spoke after joining the mourners in observing two minutes' silence for the victims.

The Dean of Christchurch, the Very Reverend Dean Beck, asked the crowd to be silent at 12.51pm, the time the magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck on September 22, killing an estimated 182 people.

The park is teeming with people, many of them wearing the Canterbury provincial sporting colours of red and black.

As teams of emergency workers, including Urban Search and Rescue (USAR), arrived before the service, people stood up and applauded.

A conch shell sounded to signal the opening of the memorial service.

Ben Brennan sounded the conch shell before Henare Rakiihia Tau, from Ngai Tahu sub-tribe Ngai Tuahuriri, welcomed the crowd firstly in te reo and then in English, and gave prayers of thanksgiving.

He asked those gathered to look at a tree, for in that is the entire history of mankind.

"The most important part of our family tree is the living, for it is only the living that can sow seeds that grow."

Among those with Prince William in the official party are Prime Minister John Key and his wife Bronagh, the Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand and his wife Susan, Lady Satyanand, Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker and his wife Jo Nicholls-Parker, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her partner Tim Mathieson, Australian Governor-General Quentin Bryce and her husband Michael Bryce and Australian Opposition leader Tony Abbott and his wife Margaret.

Mr Parker asked the crowd: "How do we go on us a city? How do we find a way to make sense of this thing?

"As a city, we have to find a way to take this weight and find a way to go forward," he said. "It seems to me, those lives that have been lost have to be given real meaning as we go forward."

Mr Parker said the city will need to be rebuilt so that the disaster will not happen again.

"We will rise from this time."

He said Christchurch will once again be the "most beautiful place on earth".

Governor-General Sir Anand Satyanand read a passage from Roman philosopher Seneca.

"Though we grieve the deaths of our loved ones, we accept them and hold on to their memories as precious gifts."

Prime Minister John Key spoke of the strength of the February 22 quake that devastated Christchurch.

"It has left scars that will never be erased from our land and our hearts."

My Key said we should remember those who lost their lives on Febraury 22.

"They are faces of a Christchurch that will never be the same again.

"Today I want to talk not only of loss, but also of hope," Mr Key said.

"It is simply not possible to list all the ways people have supported each other... simply because they were fellow humans and in desperate need.

"On behalf of all New Zealanders, I say thank you..

"We need to learn from the tragedy of February 22, but we have learnt a lot already," Mr Key said.

"We have witnessed in these past three weeks the very best of human spirit. We've seen the coming together of a city and a country."

After Kiwi musician Dave Dobbyn performed Loyal, Opposition leader Phil Goff spoke. At the time of the quake, 12.51pm, February 22, "Christchurch and the people who live there were changed forever," said Mr Goff, who was at Christchurch Airport when the quake hit.

"For all those here, we will never forget that experience."

Mr Goff said today was a day to grieve for those lost, but also to give thanks to the rescuers, police force, defence force and volunteers.

"This is also a time for hope - hope born from the resilience of Cantabrians that they can get through this."

He said the city would be rebuilt stronger and safer.

"I believe that as Kiwis, we will have the vision and commitment to do that."

Early arrivals for quake service

Before the arrival of the official party, the Woolston Brass Band played and at 12.10pm a lone piper played a lament.

Mr Parker then introduced a video showing the devastation caused by the quake. People watched in silence as a video showing the severe distruction in the city centre was played on the big screens.

As scenes of collapsed buildings, crushed cars and mounds of rubble were shown, people looked on with solemn expressions.

Services were taking part in other centres, including Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton and Dunedin.

Singers Hayley Westenra, Dame Malvina Major and Dave Dobbyn are performing at this afternoon's service, due to end around 3.30pm.

Christchurch residents Peter Burke and his wife, Diane Burke, were amongst those who turned up early for the service, and said it was particularly important for them because one of their close friends was badly hurt in the quake.

"We just decided to come down to remember those that died on February the 22nd and also a friend of ours is critically injured," Mr Burke said.

"It acts like a healing process, so we can move on."

A korowai (cloak) was placed on Prince William's shoulders just before the service began.

Before inviting the crowd to stand for two minutes' silence, Dean Peter said one of the most important things about the service was everyone gathering together.

"We are all gathered here because we all love and care and have such a deep deep grief for what has been lost."

He said there were not just the tears of grief, but also of thankfulness.

"Sometimes in the worst of times, we see the best of people."

Family members of those killed in the quake are in 400 seats specially laid out in front of the main stage, which is adorned with flowers. A pile of broken bricks and rubble sits in front of the stage, lined on each side by New Zealand flags.

Family members, each carrying a yellow rose, began to take their seats from 10am.

The Prince took a moment to speak to members of the student army for doing a "fantastic job" in the post-earthquake clean-up of Christchurch.

"Thank you for all your work you've done a fantastic job," Prince Williams said to members of the voluntary group, who took up shovels and wheelbarrows and headed to the suburbs to help restore order.

The student army members gave the prince a hat and T-shirt.

Kohan McNab, 23, said Prince William wanted to know exactly what the group did.

"He asked about the make up of the army," Mr McNab said.

"He was really relaxed. He seemed really interested it what we've done and he was quite impressed."

It was really good to get recognition from the Prince, he said.

Tens of thousands of residents have turned out for today's service at Hagley Park, including families of some of the victims of the February 22 magnitude 6.3 quake.

So far 166 have been confirmed to have died in the quake, but the number is expected to rise to 182.

People began arriving for today's ceremony from 9am as the fog that was engulfing parts of the city this morning slowly lifted to reveal bright sunshine.

New Zealanders will also be turning their thoughts to Christchurch today, with events taking place in Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton and Dunedin.

Four hundred seats were laid out for family members of people killed in the quake in front of the main stage, which is adorned with flowers. A pile of broken bricks and rubble sits in front of the stage.

Large screens have been set up around the park and a line of New Zealand flags have been erected on each side of the stage.

Family members, each carrying a yellow rose, began to take their seats from 10am.

ChristChurch Cathedral's Dean Peter Beck was circulating amongst the crowd, shaking hands and expressing his condolences.

There have been some criticism of the timing of the service, with some saying it was happening too soon as the final death toll had not been confirmed and not all the bodies officially identified.

Christchurch residents Peter Burke and his wife, Diane Burke, were amongst those who turned up early for the service, and said it was particularly important for them because one of their close friends was badly hurt in the quake.

"We just decided to come down to remember those that died on February the 22nd and also a friend of ours is critically injured," Mr Burke said.

"It acts like a healing process, so we can move on."

Mr Burke said he did not think the service was too early.

"Some people have said its too early, its too late, but there's never a good time to have it, but I think its pretty important for everyone to get together."

Lyn Meadows, from the suburb of Halswell, said the city had "bottled up" its grief and the service gave it a chance to grieve.

"I think it brings people together and I think sometimes you bottle up your grief but at a service like this you can just weep," Ms Meadows said.

"It just means we are honouring and respecting those ones that lost their lives in the earthquake," she said.

Another resident, Luke Herbert, said he did not think the service was too early and was glad he got arrived at the park early to be in a good position.

"It's a tough one but you do have to move on at some stage," Mr Herbert said

"It's a chance to grieve and move on and remember, a bit like Anzac Day."

Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker said this week the service was an opportunity for all in the city to stand together and grieve.

- NZ Herald staff, NZPA

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