By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master, teacher and peace activist, will be honored April 2 during the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award celebration at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.
During the celebration, Bishop Martin Amos will reflect on the award presentation he made to Thich Nhat Hanh’s community Oct. 31 at the California monastery where a worldwide retreat of Buddhists was held.
Because Bishop Amos and the Pacem in Terris Coalition felt so strongly about honoring Thich Nhat Hanh, they agreed to make an exception to tradition and take the award to the honoree.
Thich Nhat Hanh, called “Thay” (teacher), was not physically present for the Oct. 31 ceremony and will not be able to attend the April 2 celebration due to a stroke he suffered in late 2014. A video in which he reflects on the Great Bell Chant will be shown at the April 2 event. It begins at 4 p.m. in Christ the King Chapel on St. Ambrose University’s campus. All are welcome.
“Since people from the Davenport Diocese were not able to attend the actual celebration of the Pacem in Terris award ceremony, this is a significant time for us locally to reflect on the importance of this award,” Bishop Amos said.
Kent Ferris, who leads the Pacem in Terris Coalition, said he is looking forward to the opportunity to “celebrate with our local Buddhist community the contribution made by the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh. His expression of peace and mindfulness had a profound impact on Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and in turn the world. With 60 million refugees in the world right now, it is as if the areas of war and violent conflict are too many to count. Now more than ever, the message of peace, first within each of us, then expressed to others, is not an option but the moral imperative.”
Thay’s community accepted the award on his behalf on the 50th anniversary year of King’s selection for the same award. The two religious leaders shared a peace and nonviolence bond that influenced the political climate in the late 1960s. The American Civil Rights leader nominated Thay for the Nobel Peace Prize. Like King, Thay risked his life on behalf of peace. He was forced to flee from Vietnam after an assassination attempt and took refuge in France where he established the Plum Village Sangha (community).
Now 89, Thay was ordained a Buddhist monk in 1949. In 1960, he founded the School of Youth for Social Services (SYSS), a grassroots relief organization that rebuilt bombed villages, established schools and medical centers and resettled families left homeless during the Vietnam War. Later, he helped rescue the Vietnamese Boat people.
Thay founded socially Engaged Buddhism and is the father of the Mindfullness movement in Western culture. He inspired his community of Buddhist monks and nuns to combine contemplative life with social action, to help those suffering around them.
His founding of the Plum Village Sangha in 1982 near Bordeaux, France, grew to include four interconnected monasteries. He also founded three monasteries in the United States and two in Vietnam.
Also a prolific writer, Thay led peace walks in 2005 and 2007 and continued his peacemaking efforts until his recent illness.
About the Pacem in Terris Award
The Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award, created in 1964 by the Davenport Catholic Interracial Council, honors Pope John XXIII and commemorates his 1963 encyclical letter, Pacem in Terris. Since 1978, the award has been presented by the Quad-City Pacem in Terris Coalition to honor an individual for his or her achievements in peace and justice, not only in that individual’s own country but in the world.
Award co-sponsors are the Diocese of Davenport, St. Ambrose University, Augustana College, Quad Cities Interfaith, Churches United of the Quad City Area, Islamic Center of the Quad Cities, The Catholic Messenger, Congregation of the Humility of Mary, Sisters of St. Benedict, Sisters of St. Francis (Clinton, Iowa), and Sisters of St. Francis (Dubuque, Iowa).