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Peace Education

Following the Footsteps of Gandhi and King

“We hear about Martin Luther King, Jr., at school, but here it is more real and closer to me," says a high-school girl from Vannes, France, looking at the posters about the life of the non-violent pastor.

She came with her whole family on June 14 to see the exhibition about Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., organized by the Universal Peace Federation in Rennes, the capital city of Brittany, in the west of France. Several other young people traveled many miles to attend the program. Four teenaged brothers and sisters of the same family sing the song frequently sung at American civil rights protests, "We Shall Overcome," accompanied by guitars, keyboards and a violin.

The organizers of the event wanted the reflections about Gandhi (killed in 1948) and King (killed in 1968) to be balanced. Several speakers spoke about very real and concrete projects of peacebuilding, while others reminded us about fundamental principles needed for lasting peace.

“Congo is a country which has received many UN blue helmets," said Mr. Jean de Dieu Nani, representing the Alliance of Patriots to Rebuild the Congo. "Well, they brought no peace, and the population is angry at their inefficiency. Worse, many soldiers of peace brought us additional problems. My faith in peace is still strong, but I believe that true peace won’t come through soldiers, but through better weapons such as education for peace and true principles of peace building.”

Echoing his concern, Ms. Ivonne Acosta from Colombia briefly summarized the principles of peace of the Baha'i faith: “We are six million people all over the world with a deep respect for all existing religions and cultures. From its inception, The Baha'i movement wanted to be a movement for world peace in a divine sense.” She read a few excerpts of Baha'i peace messages. Seeing a young person of another culture and religion express such universal ideals, many participants were filled with respect and amazement.

Mr. Foudil Boudjema, the leader of a local Muslim cultural center, spoke on a difficult topic, as he himself humbly admitted: Islam and peace. “One might imagine that a dialogue between Allah and Satan is simply impossible, right? Well, the Qur’an suggests that such a dialogue exists. The Almighty God of supreme goodness does not refuse to dialogue even with the one who embodies the worst evil. If I know that my God can engage in a dialogue with Satan, shouldn’t I, as well, strive for peace, even with evildoers?”

Mr. Boudjema thus reminded us that building peace in a world dominated by evil remains impossible without divine forbearance. The next speaker spoke about the moments of pure grace and goodness which reward peacebulding. Mrs. Maguite Lorcy, the mother of four children, is a respected figure in Brittany for her humanitarian work. GAIA, her NGO, has built four schools in Togo and has health care and agricultural projects. “I had tried to help Kurds in Turkey, and the Turkish police could not understand me," she said with humor. "In Africa, it was easier, and I was first welcomed in Togo with this very cute song." She made several participants cry when she sang the song that opened doors in Africa. She believes that the key to peace is love, which opens all gates. "Love has brought all of us here today," she added, "and we are one family.”

Mr. Mamadou Nsangou, the imam of a mosque near Paris and a prison chaplain, reported that love and compassion can restore inner peace in lost souls and outer peace in a society which is often a jungle. “In the jail, my best friends are the Catholic priest, the pastor, and the rabbi. We help one another helping inmates," he said. "When religions are peaceful with each other, even bad people start to cooperate with you. Some Muslim inmates used to hate Christians or Jews. They don’t do that anymore.”

The imam joined Jean-Francois Moulinet, secretary general of UPF-France, in appointing several new Ambassadors for Peace. As people enjoyed the break, Gandhi and King already seemed a bit more substantial than just their posters on a wall.

In the second session, Rev. Dimitri Boungou-Colo showed that peacebuilding involves many sacrifices but also enthusiasm and joy. With a poignant sincerity, he told of the suffering that developed in his household. “I was not a good man before, but my long-suffering wife only felt pity for me!"

His wife came on stage and confirmed: “AFter we were married, this husband was no longer the charming man I had thought he was. He was bad and irresponsible. After three children, I wanted to divorce him, but God’s word saved me and my family. I started to change and I found inner peace, and saving him became my mission. We both became different people, and so many people have witnessed it. Dimitri is working for goodness and the peace of many.”

I concluded with a presentation of UPF's view about Gandhi and King. In a 20th century torn by extreme violence, they taught us that evil cannot be eradicated without a non-violent revolution based on profound spirituality combined with social action. The main teachings of Gandhi and King are similar to the principles of UPF:

 

  • They emphasized that the ultimate source of peace for the human family is the God above all religions
  • They lived a sacrificial life. The denial of the body became a very powerful tool to defeat evil.
  • They emphasized living for the sake of others, especially their hereditary enemies.
  • They had a strong sense of family life and their children and grandchildren have followed their example.

Shortly before he died in the Congo in 1961, UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld talked frequently about reconciliation. He knew that peacebuilding is not always pleasant; the process is often tormented and bitter, like the mood of most of Beethoven's 9th symphony. But the symphony's 4th movement, the "Ode to Joy," is a foretaste of a bliss that Gandhi described and that King proclaimed in his "I have a dream" speech. The joy of Gandhi and King is their most precious legacy.

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