OSHKOSH — The Jesuit Retreat House has issued a call for peace this year with the help of the Peace Light of Bethlehem. The flame, with its 1,000-year history, is making an appearance at the retreat center and can be viewed until Jan. 8.
Fr. Mark Carr, executive director of the Jesuit Retreat House, initiated the effort to bring the flame to Oshkosh after learning about its existence some years ago from friends.
Today, the flame is housed in two spots: one is outside the main chapel by the Nativity and the other is at the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, which is a separate building that is accessible to the public while allowing the retreat center to maintain peace and silence for retreatants who are on the campus during the Christmas season.
“We intend to be a year-round keeper of the light,” Fr. Carr said.
“We are using those two spots right now because they are so accessible to people, both retreatants and the public.” The Shrine of the Sacred Heart is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The Jesuit Retreat House has also lit some candles in the sanctuary from the lantern’s flame.
Referencing the Peace Light North America website, peacelightnorthamerica.org, Fr. Carr explained the origin of the flame and its significance, especially today when “peace, harmony and reconciliation” are so needed. The Peace Light campaign was organized in 1986 as part of a charitable relief mission called “Light into Darkness” started by the Austrian Broadcasting Company for children and people in need, according to the website.
In 1989, Scouts and other groups spread it throughout Europe and, eventually, into the United States. Each year, a child from Austria travels to Bethlehem and ignites a lamp with the flame from the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born. The light is then flown to Austria and distributed to other delegates, who take the light back to their own countries, along with a message of peace. Canadian Scouts first brought the flame to the United States in 2001 at Ground Zero in New York City after 9/11.
The 2022 Peace Light is dedicated to peace in Ukraine.
The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated new and innovative ways of sharing the Peace Light and its message. The 2020 Austrian Peace Light was delivered virtually. A small gathering was held in Salzburg. During the ceremony a candle was lit from the Peace Light for every nation taking part. The 2021 Austrian ceremony was held in the same manner. The 2020 Peace Light could not be transferred to the United States.
Fr. Carr, who had been involved in high school ministry for many years before coming to the Jesuit Retreat House, got to know people involved in scouting and the Peace Light. “With my assignment here at the retreat center, it seemed like a good place to host (the Peace Light),” he said.
While browsing the Peace Light North America website, he recognized the name of a friend and reached out to him. That led to a trip to Holy Cross Catholic Church in Batavia, Ill., which has been a keeper of the light since 2019. Fr. Carr went down and brought it back to Oshkosh.
“A big part of the (Peace) Light tradition is that it is a symbol of sharing with other people — sharing the peace that Jesus preached,” Fr. Carr explained.
“We’re happy to share the Peace Light’s fl same with other people if they would like,” the priest said, “though this year, we don’t have a special organized event for doing that. Our main goal was to get the light here this year. Next year, we may plan a sharing ceremony.”
“This is really a neat thing,” Fr. Carr added. “You are aware that there are people all around the world doing the same thing. It involves other denominations as well. Its goal is to promote peace, harmony and reconciliation, and the world can use more of that.”
Fr. Carr said that the Peace Light complements the retreat center’s Peace Pole, put up on the grounds in 2007. “It bears the message ‘May peace prevail on Earth’ to remind and encourage people to work for peace,” he said. “Both fit in well with our own faith and represent two powerful images of Jesus in the Bible: as Prince of Peace in Isaiah and Jesus as the Light of the World in John’s Gospel.”
After the feast of the Epiphany, the Peace Light will find a permanent home in the Chapel of the Annunciation on the Jesuit Retreat House grounds.
“Each Advent and Christmas, we will display it with the Nativity scene and in the Shrine of the Sacred Heart,” Fr. Carr said.
More information on the hours and location of the Peace Light can be found at jesuitretreathouse.org.