As New Zealand struggles to recover in the aftermath of the brutal twin shootings at mosques in Christchurch, the nation in mourning gathered for an anti-racism rally recently. And as thousands of people from across the country converged in Auckland, one 95-year-old has emerged as the hero for all the efforts he took to reach the venue.
John Sato, a nonagenarian World War II veteran of the New Zealand army, changed four buses to reach Auckland in a bid to exhibit his support for the Muslim community.
A photograph of Sato walking down the centre of the street with a police officer clutching his right hand and another man holding the other hand is going viral.
The Army veteran told Radio New Zealand that he couldn’t sleep the night of the Christchurch terror attacks when a sole gunman killed 50 people during the afternoon prayers and injured several more. “I thought it was so sad. You can feel the suffering of other people,” he told the broadcaster. “The Christchurch incident was more than just a tragedy for us.”
Sato said the hardships were all part of life, and it was important for people to look after one another regardless of their cultural backgrounds and ethnicity. “I think it’s such a tragedy, and yet it has the other side. It has brought people together, no matter what their race or anything. People suddenly realised we’re all one. We care for each other.”
The elderly war veteran said he had been living on his own in Howick since the demise of his wife and daughter, but the tragedy was too serious and he couldn’t help himself but join the rally to show solidarity.
What started out just as a trip to a nearby mosque in Pakuranga, ended up him going to the main city to join the mega rally. He was grateful that people were kind to him on the way and helped him whenever they spotted him. “Policeman took me all the way home, waited down there until he saw me getting up the stairs,” the veteran added.
His gesture was praised by people online, and many hailed him as a ‘hero for life who continues to inspire’. People also lauded the police officer for helping him.
A week after the tragedy in Christchurch, people across New Zealand gathered in solidarity and observed two minutes of silence as a tribute to the victims. Women across faiths, donned headscarves to show solidairty following the footsteps of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardernand it became a major moment in the country.