POSTCARD from Christchurch, NZ

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Christchurch Transitional Cathedral was built in 2013, mostly of cardboard — and, this is my personal opinion, a whole lot of faith.

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Steel beams brace a building damaged in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

An earthquake rattled the pretty town of Christchurch back in 2011. Although it looked at first as if there was little damage, in fact, some 1,700 buildings had to be torn down when officials determined they were unstable.

Imagine that happening where you live. Cathedrals and churches were no more. Your office lay in a pile of rubble. The stores you frequented, the bars and restaurants where you spent your weekends. Now vacant lots.

Christchurch residents faced such a dire situation — and still are. But for every vacant block and braced building, there are signs of resilience and hope.

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The lofty sanctuary of Christchurch’s cardboard cathedral.

I had one goal when I visited this South Island city. I wanted to see the Cardboard Cathedral. When the original cathedral was seriously damaged, the Diocese of Christchurch responded in a unique way. They created a gleaming “transitional” cathedral, designed by Shigeru Ban made of sheets of rigid plastic and cardboard tubes. Cathedrals take years — decades — to build but this one took two years and is designed to last 50.

It’s full of light. The stained glass windows over the entrance spill color over the whole place. When I saw the building, it was filled with visitors — and from all the tables in the sanctuary, I could tell it would be a place of celebration that evening.

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Along the Avon River, a series of steps known as the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial pays tribute to those killed or injured in the earthquake. The bridge and arch behind it serve as a memorial to those who gave their lives in war.

It was only one sign of hope that we saw as we took our only stroll through Christchurch.

At first I was shaken by what I saw. I’d never seen so much devastation.

But it was clear from every new building, from the clusters of shipping containers converted into shops and offices, from the braces on buildings that survived — Christchurch wasn’t beaten. Christchurch still stands. Proud and beautiful.

Ⓒ Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

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