They survived the Christchurch attacks. In Mecca, they're finding peace as Hajj pilgrims

From left to right, Taj Mohammed, Rashid Omar and Maryam Gul, who have traveled from New Zealand to Mecca this week to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

(CNN)When 31-year-old Maryam Gul laid eyes on the Kaaba this week, it was a moment of complete peace. The cube-shaped structure, and most sacred shrine of Islam, felt a world away from the Linwood mosque at Christchurch, New Zealand where her mother, father and brother were fatally gunned down earlier this year.

"I thought I am looking at a symbol, a symbol of peace. A symbol of God. He's here," Gul told CNN.
Gul is one of 200 people who arrived in Mecca, Saudi Arabia from Christchurch this week to perform the annual Hajj pilgrimage, which began on Friday. They are survivors of the March 2019 terror attacks at two Christchurch mosques as well as the relatives of those who were slain in the shootings.
Fifty-one people were killed in the attack by a white nationalist gunman during Friday prayers.
    Saudi Arabia's King Salman extended the invitation to the group for the all-expenses-paid pilgrimage in July. CNN's interviews with Christchurch pilgrims in Mecca were facilitated by the kingdom's Center of International Communications.
    In a statement published by the official Saudi news agency, Minister for Islamic Affairs Abdullatif bin Abdulaziz Al-Sheikh said the state-funded trip was part of the kingdom's efforts to "confront and defeat terrorism and terrorists." Christchurch survivors and victims' relatives say the pilgrimage has been a means to healing from the violence that changed their lives.
    "My feelings are more calm now. I'm more in order. I'm not in chaos anymore. I'm not in a bad mood anymore," said Gul. "I am more in peace now. I'm more concentrated on doing and spreading peace."
    Muslim pilgrims gather at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on August 7, 2019, prior to the start of the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city.

    A long way from Christchurch

    "It was a very special day," said Taj Mohammed, 47, recalling the moment he received the invitation to perform the Hajj. "I am very happy."
    Mohammed was shot in the leg three times at the al-Noor mosque in Christchurch. Because of his injury, he must perform the obligatory seven circles of the Kaaba on crutches or in a wheelchair.
    He said the spiritual experience has eased his ailments and filled him with gratitude. "It's not so easy to come to Hajj," said Mohammed.