acinda Adern wears a headscarft in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks Photograph: Kirk Hargreaves/Christchurch City Council

In the hours after a gunman killed 50 people at two mosques in central Christchurch, prime minister Jacinda Ardern called a press conference that set the tone for a grief-stricken country. It has become a seminal moment of her leadership story.

The 38-year-old prime minister has been tested like few New Zealand leaders before, leading the country as it deals with the worst terrorism attack in the nation’s modern history.

Fifty people killed while at Friday prayers. Dozens injured. A once peaceful nation in profound shock. Ardern’s voice wavered slightly as she spoke, but her message of unity and compassion was unflinching.

“You may have chosen us,” said Ardern, referring to the killer, anger in her voice. “But we utterly reject and condemn you.”

By Saturday morning she was on the ground in Christchurch with the majority of her cabinet ministers and opposition leaders. Dressed in a black headscarf trimmed with gold, the prime minister met with members of the Muslim community affected by the tragedy. She held them in her arms as they sobbed, whispering words of condolence, and pressing her cheek against theirs. Video footage of those embraces travelled around the world.

This article was originally published on Gospel Saints Magazine December Issue


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