In the wake of the deadly shootings on Friday at two mosques in Christchurch, athletes from Special Olympics New Zealand and Special Olympics UAE, along with leaders of Special Olympics, gathered today at the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi in a show of compassion and unity.
More than 100 mourners processed quietly into the mosque, then formed a circle and held hands in its vast courtyard before sunset. Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver made remarks before a long moment of silence.
"As we try to overcome our own brokenness from the chaos in the world we must remember that hate cannot defeat hate, only love can do that," Shriver said. "I am so comforted being here among the forces of healing, the forces of understanding, the forces of compassion and the forces of tolerance. The world needs to know these forces are more powerful than anything."
Special Olympics New Zealand has a delegation of 64 athletes and coaches in the UAE for the Special Olympics World Games. After they learned of the deadly attacks this morning, the grieving New Zealand delegation sought to comfort one another and to show solidarity with Muslims worldwide. Special Olympics World Games organisers also decided to hold a moment of silence before each event at the competition in a broad display of unity.
Referencing the tragedy in his home country, Special Olympics New Zealand basketball athlete Carlton Vivian, who is from Christchurch, said, at the Grand Mosque, "These people didn't deserve this, no body deserves this."
The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is a symbol of Islam and embodies the Islamic message of peace, tolerance and diversity. Among those to take a tour of the Mosque already this year are Pope Francis, the Head of the Catholic Church, and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Dr. Ahmed el-Tayeb. During their visit to the UAE, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam signed the historic Human Fraternity document that calls for peace between nations, religions and races.
This year is the Year of Tolerance throughout the UAE and is the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics, a movement that prides itself on erasing the lines of division and fear of difference through the power of sport.