For the 12th year, Our Lady of the Skies Chapel, Kennedy Airport, and the Diocese of Brooklyn’s Catholic Committee on Scouting hosted a ceremony of reception for the Peace Light – that arrived on Austrian Airlines from Vienna – on Dec. 4. Scouting groups from all over the country drove to JFK to have their lanterns lit with the Peace Light. The groups then distribute the light throughout North America.
“We are creatures of symbol, and that’s why the symbol of peace in the visible sign of the flame is so important to us,” said Father Chris Piasta, chaplain at Our Lady of the Skies.
For the past 28 years, the Peace Light has traveled the globe during the Advent season as a symbol of the light of Christ during Christmas. The campaign was originally organized by the Austrian Broadcasting Company as part of the “Light into Darkness” charitable relief mission for children in need in Austria and abroad.
Each year, a child from Upper Austria fetches the Peace Light from the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in the town of Bethlehem in the city of Jerusalem, where Christ was born. This year’s “Peace Child” was Michael Weixlbaumer, a 12-year-old Boy Scout from Kematen an der Krems, Traunviertelf, Upper Austria. He collected the light on Nov. 26.
The light is then flown to Austria, where it is distributed throughout Europe. From there, the light makes its way across the Atlantic Ocean for its journey around North America, which begins at JFK.
To keep the flame burning, the light is transported in an airtight box that has been approved by the president of Austrian Airlines. Scouts bring buckets with an inner safe lining to then transport their flame back to their hometown and beyond.
At the ceremony, while Brian Long, chairman emeritus of the diocese’s Catholic Committee on Scouting, was busy lighting the lanterns from the Peace Light, Auxiliary Bishop Paul Sanchez blessed the lanterns that would be receiving the light. All in attendance responded: “We gladly receive this light as a sign of our willingness to be channels of peace, by our works and actions.”
“For us as Christians and Catholics, the great light is the light of Christ Who scatters the darkness of our lives and the darkness of our sins,” Bishop Sanchez said. “The meaning is that it (the light) brings peace, and the light of Christ radiates into the hearts of all people.”
Father Tom Vassalotti, administrator at Divine Mercy parish, Williamsburg, chaplain of the diocese’s Catholic Committee on Scouting and himself an Eagle Scout, said that the theme of light is very important during the Advent season and is a great way for Scouts to celebrate their faith.
“It (the Peace Light) gives them (scouts) a sense of connection with Christ’s birth in Jerusalem,” Father Vassalotti said. “It has a life of its own. It’s beautiful.”
Girl Scouts from St. Mel’s parish, Flushing, were also present at the ceremony, and they distributed candles to guests. Each Girl Scout lit a candle from the Peace Light; the group recited a prayer; and then the Girl Scouts blew out the candles. Even though they were blown out, the candles will always have the Peace Light, so they can be re-lit and shared with others.
“The Peace Light has different meanings to everyone,” said Justin Blendermann, an eighth-grader at Transfiguration School, Manhattan, and a member of Boy Scout Troop No. 469. “I think the Peace Light represents hope. The Peace Light has come from Bethlehem to spread that hope to everyone and everything on Earth.”
One scout leader, Joe Reding from Troop No. 113 in Bayport, Minn., has been involved with the distribution of the Peace Light for six years. After receiving the flame, he took the light to six different locations in the Midwest.
Reding tracks and maps the Peace Light’s movement throughout North America at www.peacelight.org. He encourages scouts to share the stories of their journeys on the website.
“This really puts Christ in Christmas,” Reding said. “Yes, it comes from the place of Christ’s birth, but it’s really for any denomination and anyone who wants to share the peace. Maybe it will make a difference for someone somewhere.”
As sung in the Prayer of St. Francis, “Make me a channel of your peace / Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope / Where there is darkness, only light / And where there’s sadness ever joy.”
The Peace Light aims to alleviate the darkness of the Advent season by bringing joy to everyone it reaches.