Sunday, December 24, 2006

International Peace Light from the Bethlehem Nativity Grotto


As I reflect on another Christmas season, a time near the end of the year when us 'task oriented' types can be run off our feet, I am warmed by this story of the Peace Light Campaign. No matter what complaints we have with the commercialization of Christmas, or the new political correctness that drops Christ out of everything, we can find some glimmer of light that reminds us that Christmas does indeed belong to Christ.

Enjoy this story and your own story of Christ's birth in your neighbourhood.

[Singing] ‘The light from Bethlehem will give the world a new hope, let us all warm in the light of peace.’

The Nativity Grotto Peace Light campaign is a two-decade-old tradition. Every year a child from Austria fetches the light from the place in Bethlehem where Jesus Christ was born. Then the light travels to Austria where it is distributed to delegations from different nations at a special ceremony. Back in their home countries, messengers take the light to churches, hospitals, old people’s homes, prisons, schools and other institutions.

Polish scouts take part in the tradition for the 16th time this year. Ewa Lachiewicz, head of the international office of the Polish Scouting and Guiding Association.

The message of the campaign of the light of Bethlehem is to spread peace. For the scouting family peace is the most important value. We believe that this is our aim living here on Earth, that we should try to build friendship with all other people. We perceive the Peace Light of Bethlehem as something very important for scouting.’

The Nativity Grotto Peace Light campaign originated in Austria as part of a charitable mission organized for children in need. It was very quickly spread as an international peace campagin. Since its onset 20 years ago, scouts from many countries have gathered together to help the light travel throughout Europe and recently even to the United States. Polish scouts have collected the light of peace from their Slovak counterparts and will pass it on to Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania and Russia. Ewa Lachiewicz of the Polish Scouting and Guiding Association again:

‘In Vienna it was distributed to national delegations. Slovak scouts received the light in Vienna and brought it to the Polish Slovakian border. Polish scouts received the light just last Sunday from our Slovak friends. Now we will bring the light to the countries to the east of Poland. This is very important to us to be part of this chain of spreading the message of peace to our neighbor countries: Russia, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine.’

For Polish scout Adam Staroniek the light symbolizes peace, family, warmth, and the good that is in people:

‘This light comes from the Nativity Grotto in Bethlehem. Just before Christmas we take this light and give it to all the people. It symbolizes family warmth and peace. It is supposed to be an occasion for all of us to sit by this fire, because as one of our songs says, everything that’s evil seeks darkness, and what is good, comes out into the light. This is why we spread this light.’

Earlier this year it was feared that there might be problems collecting the light from Bethlehem because of the turmoil in the region. However, due to a peace agreement in August, the tradition can still be practiced.

‘This year will be the first time that the fire will arrive in Russia before December 25 in order to bring light to the believers of Catholic, Protestant and other non-Orthodox parishes for Christmas,” said Vyacheslav Chernykh, initiator of the initiative and an officer at the Russian Scout foundation, according to the press service of the Russian Conference of Catholic Bishops.’

In the past, the light of peace has been presented to Pope John II, Pope Benedict XVI, Mikhail Gorbatchow, former King Hussain of Jordan, EU President Romano Prodi, and troops in Kosovo and to Ground Zero, New York.

The International Peace Light Website

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