Shadows cast across the high ceiling of St Paul’s Cathedral, combined with the echoing sounds of the Choir of Trinity College, helped to create a sense of ceremony at a multifaith service for Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 late last month.
People of various cultures, ages and faiths filled the church to pay their respects to those who perished in the tragedy. Many shed tears while others sat quietly in sombre reflection. With all seats filled, including the chairs added to the pews, many were required to stand at the back of the church.
Guests of honour included Victorian Governor Alex Chernov, Premier Denis Napthine, other dignitaries as well as family and friends of victims.
The National Anthem was sung before the service was formally opened by the Dean of St Pauls, Andreas Loewe who began with a Welcome to Country.
Melbourne Archbishop Rev Dr Philip Freier offered comfort through a brief and gentle sermon.
“You need not account for how you feel today or explain your grief – God knows it.
“Each death of those 298 people is individually a tragedy. Each of those people had all of the God-given vitality and potential that made them who they were for those who knew them. It is proper that we grieve for each as much as we grieve for all collectively.
“Many of us today will experience a grief that is no less real on account of its being in some ways vicarious,” he said.
Dr Napthine led an ‘Act of Remembrance’ beginning with the recitation of a short poem. Three consular officials – Mr Diego Velasco von Pilgrimm, Dean of the consular corps, Malaysian Consul-General Mohamad Rameez Bin Yahaya and Dutch honorary consul Hans Nieuwland – each sounded a bell and lit a candle in turn.
Ms Nina Bassat, president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, read from the book of the Lamentations and Melbourne Catholic Archbishop Denis Hart read the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew.
Prayers were led by leaders of other faiths: Sheikh Moustapha Sarakibi, Imam of the Islamic Council of Victoria; Venerable Hojun Futen of the Buddhist Council of Victoria; and Cantor Bruce Levin who sang the mourners’ Kaddish.
The theme of the service was ‘Remembering with hope’ – and it was with a sense of both hope and deep solemnity that the victims and their loved ones were held in the thoughts and prayers of those gathered.