Peace at Any Age

Gerson andre.jpg
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
- Margaret Mead

Good day to you all!

This week we celebrated the first day of spring (hallelujah!) and the weather in Philadelphia, where the National Shrine of Saint Rita of Cascia resides, has been absolutely beautiful! I hope that the change in season is lifting your spirits, wherever you may be reading this blog!

While I’m talking about hope, what is it that brings you hope in this world? If you open your eyes and ears to the everyday graces God floods us with, you will notice that we are given reasons to hope for the Kingdom of God everywhere: in the change of weather, in small gestures of kindness, in loving affirmations, and however Our Lord effectively captures your attention. Children have always been one such source of hope for me: their simplistic joys, unencumbered love, and awe for the world all seem to reveal slivers of the heavens. I know that I’m not alone in observing this, for even Jesus tells us in the oh-so-famous passage from Matthew:

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
- Matthew 18:3-4

In this spirit, I thought that this week we could direct our focus to the story of a child who is bringing about extraordinary peace. We recently reflected on the organization Friends Without Borders and while their mission is carried out by children between India and Pakistan, that effort started through adults. Today’s featured peacemaker made waves as a child and has inspired other children to follow suit - proving to the rest of us that peace may be sought after at any time and any age.

For those of you who are unaware about the state of affairs in Colombia, the country was engaged in a decades-long conflict between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and the government. While the immediate conflict has ended, they are still tallying casualties due to the lingering presence of landmines: as of 2015, the Colombian government claimed that more than 11,000 people had been injured or killed by landmines since 1990. The death of one young girl served as a tipping point for Gerson Andres Florez Perez, who at the age of eleven decided that Colombia had endured enough. He wrote a peace proposal called “Children of Peace” and presented his work to the media and anyone willing to listen.

Two million, seven hundred thousand children throughout Colombia gave their vote in a referendum and demanded the respect of their fundamental rights, and all because Gerson decided to write this proposal. This mobilization became known as the “Children’s Movement for Peace” and sparked the most important referendum by civil society for life and liberty. Gerson was awarded the 1999 Global Youth Award for Peace and Tolerance. At the age of sixteen, he also became the youngest law student at The Universidad Nueva Granada and in time won a Nobel Peace Prize for the work he did to reduce personal landmines.

Gerson not only discovered he had a voice, but that his voice could become a wildly powerful vehicle for peace. Age, education, status - none of theoe factors prevailed over his innate, God-given abilities to create change. May his example bring you renewed hope and I pray that your hearts are open to receive the hope springing all around you!

Peace to you.

Kelsey Rode, Saint Rita Shrine Office Administrator