Message of Peace Light, Now in US, Seen as More Urgent amid Israel-Hamas War

| 12/5/2023

By: Our Sunday Visitor

Scouts and volunteers will form a network of drivers who transfer the flame across North America

A lantern is lit with a flame from the Peace Light during a ceremony at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, on December 3, 2023.
A lantern is lit with a flame from the Peace Light during a ceremony at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, on December 3, 2023. After its arrival on Austria Airlines, the Peace Light, a continuous flame originating in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, it will be taken across North America by a network of drivers formed by the Boy Scouts and volunteers will transfer the flame as a sign of "peace, harmony, and unity among all people of the world." (OSV News photo/Alicia Venter, The Tablet)

QUEENS (OSV News) — As Catholics across the New York metropolitan area lit their first candle of the Advent season the weekend of December 2-3, a flame drawn from a source that dates back 1,000 years arrived at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens.

The Peace Light, a continuous flame originating in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where for more than 1,000 years oil lamps have continuously burned, landed at JFK from Vienna on an Austria Airlines flight on December 3. From there, Scouts and volunteers will form a network of drivers who transfer the flame across North America.

Welcomed and facilitated by the Boy Scouts of America, the “Messengers of Peace” from Vienna brought the flame in a small box to the Our Lady of the Skies Chapel outside JFK’s Terminal 4.

A gathering of faithful surrounded the flame and prayed for peace across the world — particularly in the war-torn Holy Land — before lighting their lanterns with fire from the Peace Light flame, which is symbolic of universal peace, harmony, and unity.

“There is a little bit of a paradox or irony that the Peace Light is coming to us from the place where there is war,” said Father Chris Piasta, the chaplain at Our Lady of Skies Chapel who has been part of the ceremony for 13 years. “I’m glad that it’s happening because, even though there is war over there and in Ukraine, we have to be reminded that there is goodness in people.”

The clergy on hand reiterated the point that the annual travels of the Peace Light carry additional weight this year, given that they begin in a place that is ravaged by the ongoing Israeli-Hamas conflict.

“This is very important from the point of view that the Light of Bethlehem brings peace to people. It is very important to pray for Ukraine and the Middle East, especially given the context of all the events in the world,” said Father Cezariusz Jastrzebski, an assistant chaplain at Our Lady of the Skies Chapel.

The tradition began in 2001, when the light was brought to ground zero following the terrorist attacks of September 11. It became a more formal event the following year, and subsequent ceremonies have been held at the Our Lady of the Skies Chapel.

“This (Peace Light) thing has such a magic about it. … Wherever this goes, it just brings a smile to peoples’ faces,” said Brian Long, director of Scouting for the Diocese of Brooklyn, who has attended all 21 arrivals of the symbolic flame at JFK Airport.

Although the flight’s arrival was delayed an hour by weather conditions, each attendee was able to approach the altar of the chapel and have their lanterns lit with the flame of the light.

Some in attendance this year said they had been coming to the airport year after year for the Peace Light arrival celebration, including many who first began coming as Cub Scouts with their families or scout leaders.

Jotham Andrés, an 11-year-old Boy Scout, has been coming to witness the Peace Light since he joined the Scouts. Now in his seventh year in the program, Andres looks forward to making the annual trip with his two older siblings, parents and his troop from Annandale, New Jersey. His family teams up to produce a livestream video of the ceremony.

“It’s a family tradition. It’s fun, and it’s nice to give to people,” Jotham told The Tablet, the newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn. “(My favorite part) is probably just talking to people. You only get to speak to many of these people once a year.”

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Alicia Venter is a staff writer for The Tablet, newspaper of the Diocese of Brooklyn.

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