Finding Peace at Peace Camp

Kate Finan Around the Province

Christopher Posch and participants of Peace Camp, a summer program of the Little Friends For Peace and Saint Francis International School. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

From July 31 to Aug. 4, children between the ages of six and 14 from St. Camillus Parish, Silver Spring, Md., participated in a hands-on, experiential immersion experience that gave them the tools and skills to become peacemakers. Below, a volunteer describes the effect Peace Camp has on children and adults alike.

SILVER SPRING, Md. — Most of the change in my life is the result of a personal invitation, be it from God, Christopher Posch, OFM, or family and friends. When Fr. Chris asked me to help with Peace Camp, I hesitated because 120 kids seemed like a big challenge to accept. I like quiet. Yet being a woman of hope, I jumped in and said, “Yes.”

MJ and Jerry Park started the Little Friends for Peace organization 35 years ago and have brought their program to St. Camillus, first to the children in our school, and later to teens, adults, and Langley Parkers in our parish Peace Circles.

Every day at Peace Camp, we concentrated on one way to live more peacefully. On Monday, we learned to care; on Tuesday, to share; on Wednesday, to cooperate; on Thursday, to shine; and on Friday, to celebrate all that we have learned. Each day, we were taught to be mindful of our word to practice that day. By Friday, we could see and celebrate the change in mind and heart as we mindfully went about our work preparing a program for our families and friends.

I soon realized that this week was not just about service in the parish – it was an invitation to find more peace within my own heart. I felt called to work on the one issue in my life that breaks my peace. With prayer and attention to that piece of life, I will care for myself more, share with others, cooperate in the process, continue to shine the light of God, and hopefully celebrate in these later years of life.

Chris observed the face painting process for one of the camp’s participants. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

Peace Museum
My ministry was to be a proctor in the “Peace Museum,” along with Mary Rein, another volunteer. When the children came to the museum, I gave them an introduction to the various activities there and encouraged them to enjoy this time of peace by reading about peacemakers and building something peaceful with Legos or magnetic blocks. They built wonderfully high buildings and rejoiced when the blocks fell down so they could build them again. In these activities, the cooperation and sharing were evident. There was a large wooden labyrinth on a table that drew kids to push marbles along the path carefully so they would not fall off the table. It was very peaceful.

We had a table of flags along with a large poster identifying the name of the corresponding country. One young girl sat down at the table and looked through many flags. She told me she could not find the flag for her country. I asked her which country she was from and when I found her country’s flag, her face lit up and she told me about coming to America and how she wanted to go back to her “other mommy.” I listened and asked her questions until she left to go to the next activity. Later, her sister came to the museum, sat at the table, found her flag, and told me that she and her sister were going back to their country in two weeks. My initial heartbreak for her sister was soothed by this good news.

Peace starts in our heart and then goes out to others. There are going to be more Peace Camps in the parish, including Family Peace Camps and Peace Circles for teens, children, and Langley Parkers. They, too, will bear fruit. This process can work for all ages, be they seven or 70.

‘Through Patience… All Can Experience Peace’
Below are several testimonials from others who have participated in Peace Camp:

Kierra “Kiki” Butler, a college student and volunteer said, “since working with Little Friends for Peace these past two years, I have learned that through patience, all children can learn and experience peace. I discovered special techniques to help children understand their feelings as well as others’ around them. LFFP also taught me how to find peace within myself.”

“My experience at Peace Camp was definitely two-way, which is now helping me to understand my coworkers so that we can work more efficiently as a team,” she added. “The skills I gained from Little Friends for Peace will help me to become a marriage and family counselor – skills such as checking in with each other before we start our day and at the end of the day, keeping a focus on the children, and making sure to build rapport so that we build trust with each other, with the children and with the community.”

Kait Miller, an intern at Little Friends for Peace, said, “LFFP has brought me joy and more peace than I have had before. I love what the program is doing and how much I’ve learned from working with everyone. LFFP has given me tools to use to help other children and adults know what peace is and how to bring it to others.”

An eight-year-old Peace Camper wrote that “Many people have different ways of making peace. I have mine, too. I draw. My pen has some rather different qualities. My pen makes anything I draw come to life. That’s why I only draw peaceful, happy things. So if you ever see a peace sign walking down your street, know that I drew it.”

Young people along with Chris celebrate peace at the closing ceremonies of Peace Camp. (Photo courtesy of Octavio Duran)

During a homily Christopher Posch gave at the end of Peace Camp, he said, “Jesus, Peter, James, and John climbed a high mountain and Jesus was transfigured before them. His face radiated like the sun. His clothes became dazzling white as light. Moses and Elijah showed up. The voice of the Almighty said, ‘This is my beloved son. Listen to him.’ Later they came down. Amazing!”

“Last Monday through Friday, Jesus and about 150 people, mostly from our parish, climbed a low mountain, the Camilla Room, which was transformed into a Peace Village,” Chris added. “An amazing thing happened: Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Dorothy Day, and Pope Francis showed up. Malala, the Pakistani girl who was almost killed by the Taliban because she wanted an education, also showed up. All of these peacemakers came in the form of our young children dressed up in costume, recalling the legacy of their peacemaker, calling us to non-violence, to be instruments of peace, to open up our hearts and homes, to have compassion for those who are poor, to advocate fiercely for the basic human right to education, and to maximize and enjoy the benefits of education for those who have access to it.”

“Later, we left the Peace Village, came down the mountain, and returned to our homes and the routines of our daily lives with the tools, skills, and the desires to be a peace-maker, not a peace-breaker; to realize it’s ok to be angry, but not mean; to stop and think, and then act; to offer put-ups, instead of put downs; and to be bucket fillers, rather than bucket spillers,” Chris said. “On Thursday, a mother approached me and said, ‘My children come home from Peace Camp happy. They are practicing stopping, calming down, and working things out peacefully.’ Another mother said that while her teens, who did not attend Peace Camp, were having a heated argument, their six-year-old sibling and LFFP “peace camper” jumped into the scene and declared, ‘Stop!’ There was a ceasefire and ultimately a peaceful resolution.”

“During Peace Camp, we celebrated that peace is within us and we are called to spread it around us,” said Chris. “It can be said that those who climbed the mountain to the Peace Village experienced the transfiguration of Christ and now are being transfigured themselves! Now we come down the mountain and strive to be instruments of peace in our daily lives.”

Kate Finan is a volunteer at St. Camillus Parish in Silver Spring, Md.

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