They are a symbol of hope – for the end of war and strife; for the acceptance of all people despite their differences; for lasting peace throughout the planet.
Peace poles – handcrafted wooden monuments that proclaim “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in four different languages – have been erected all over the globe to serve as a reminder of the value of diversity and the need to get along with others.
The Peace Pole Project, which began in 1955 with the late Japanese poet and philosopher Masahisa Goi and the World Peace Society, has led to the planting of more than 200,000 peace poles in 200 countries.
While peace poles have been erected in prominent locations such as the Pyramids of El Giza in Egypt, the Allenby Bridge on the border between Israel and Jordan and the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, they also exist right here in Spokane.
At least 19 peace poles have been planted at schools, parks, churches and other locations in the city, according to the Rev. Toni Niemiec, co-pastor of Spokane’s Center for Spiritual Living.
As part of “Pathways to Peace 2009,” a series of local events to promote inner peace and sponsored by people from various faith communities and peace groups, Niemiec will lead a Peace Pole Pilgrimage and progressive dinner to seven of the poles in the Spokane area next Saturday.
Beginning with the wooden pole near the waterfalls at Mirabeau Park in Spokane Valley, participants will stop for a few minutes at each site to listen to prayers of peace from different faith traditions and also for a moment of silence.
People are welcome to take part at one or more of the sites, Niemiec said. Some will carpool and then caravan to each location. The pilgrimage is expected to take about four hours.
The peace pole pilgrimage and other “Pathways to Peace” events have been organized by a group called One Peace, Many Paths, a project that began with the Peace Committee at the Unity Church of Truth on the South Hill and grew last year to include other churches and faith traditions.
The mission of One Peace is to honor the various approaches to peace and to deepen the expression of peace in the Spokane area, according to organizers.
“There are so many paths to peace, so many paths to God – each one is a sincere response to that inner longing for peace and that response to the divine,” said the Rev. Joan Broeckling, co-director of One Peace and a member of Unity Church.
“Peace on earth can be established if we reach outside of our comfort zone, learn about others and practice being with one another.”
Last year was the first time that One Peace hosted a series of gatherings and interfaith celebrations. This year, the group has organized “Pathways to Peace,” a series that began Friday with an opening ceremony for the creation of a Buddhist sand mandala.
It will continue for the next 10 days with discussions at various places of worship, the dismantling of the mandala, an interfaith ceremony and social gathering, and the peace pole pilgrimage.
Most of the peace poles in the Spokane area are made out of 4-by-4 wooden posts and stand about 6 to 8 feet tall. Each one contains the words “May Peace Prevail On Earth” inscribed on each side in different languages.
Spokane’s newest pole at the Center for Spiritual Living, for instance, promotes peace in English and Japanese as well as Arabic and Hebrew.
“Peace poles create an awareness that we are not alone,” said Niemiec, who is also the co-director of One Peace, Many Paths. “It’s about being connected with others and raising consciousness. … Peace is not a political issue, but really a feeling and a way of being.”
Throughout the world, peace poles have been planted in town squares, gardens and other public places. They’ve also been dedicated by political and religious leaders including former President Jimmy Carter, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama and Pope John Paul II.
The first peace pole in Spokane was planted almost two decades ago, according to Niemiec, who spent many hours researching local peace poles.
It began when Hiroko Goto, a student from Japan attending Eastern Washington University, became friends with Ho Lan and Dan Chang, owners of Ho Ho Teriyaki in the Flour Mill.
Goto sent a peace pole to Ho Lan for their restaurant. She and others decided to start a local peace pole project and the next pole was planted in 1994 in Finch Arboretum.
The idea was adopted by teachers at Regal Elementary School, which was the first of about eight schools in the area to erect a peace pole. Now, peace poles can be found throughout the city including the Unitarian Universalist Church, Logan Peace Park and the office of the Peace and Justice Action League, located in the mezzanine of the Community Building.
In the same way that the peace poles have connected various communities throughout the globe, those involved with One Peace hope that the pilgrimage and other “Pathways to Peace” events will promote unity on a local level.
“We are all human beings on this human spiritual journey together,” said Broeckling. “As we open ourselves to people who are different from us, it can only help us grow in love.”
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