Prime Minister Christopher Luxon heaps praise on Dame Jacinda Ardern as families gather to remember March 15

Former Prime Minister Dame Jacinda Ardern has received praise from an unlikely admirer as families of the March 15 terror attacks gathered to remember those who lost their lives five years ago. 

Politicians from all major parties were among the crowd of worshippers at Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch on Friday night to share memories, tears and even laughter. 

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon was welcomed to Al Noor and the tight-knit Muslim community was packed ever tighter in the crowded mosque. 

The dignitaries were front and centre, but the fallen were foremost in thought.  

For everyone at Al Noor, March 15 - in the month of Ramadan - was a day of reflection. 

"We met hope and hurt, joy and sadness, strength and the need for softness, a public image and a private journey, ease and grief, patience and loss and the courage to hope. The journey of healing has been by no means linear but here we were and... are," said Sara Qasem, whose father died in the attack. 

The hope is for the future. 

"First of all, my suggestion [is] that we can declare March 15 a National Day of Compassion," said survivor Farid Ahmed, whose wife was killed in the mass shooting. 

Not a holiday, Ahmed said, but a day of active kindness - like what poured out five years ago. 

"The world knew the aroha that the New Zealand community gave the Muslim community," said Federation of Islamic Associations spokesperson Abdur Razzaq. 

That was a message echoed by Prince William on Saturday. In a post on X, the Prince of Wales said he was "struck by the unity forged by an attack which aimed to sow division" when he visited Christchurch in the aftermath of the shooting. 

He said it was "a constant reminder... of why we must come together and unite against extremism". 

A central figure in that unity was not forgotten by Luxon. 

"I would also like to acknowledge the leadership of former Prime Minister Dame Jacinda Ardern, who spoke for us all at that time and led New Zealand through those dark days so extremely well," Luxon said. 

The Prime Minister also paid tribute to the leadership shown within.  

"Our Muslim community justifiably could've chosen to respond to this terrible act with anger, with hate and withdrawal. And yet you have modelled, to all of us, your wonderful faith, love, compassion, engagement, peace and hope."