Peace Pilgrim: Her Enduring Legacy and Message
By Belinda F. Espiritu
The message left behind by an American woman named Peace Pilgrim (1908– 1981), who had the extraordinary calling of making a pilgrimage for peace by walking thousands of miles in all the fifty states of America, the ten states of Canada, and some parts of Mexico, remains as needed today, in these chaotic, suffering-filled times, marked by war, conflict, and terrorism, as before. Her simple message was: “Overcome evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love.” Peace Pilgrim renounced her former identity and did not wish to be known other than as ‘Peace Pilgrim’. She started her pilgrimage on foot for peace through America on January 1, 1953 and was on her seventh pilgrimage in 1981 when she was killed in a head-on collision while on her way to a speaking engagement.
Peace Pilgrim walked till she was offered shelter, fasted till she was given food, and prayed as she walked. Her complete faith in God’s presence and protection and her complete renunciation of material wealth and personal status were absolutely striking. She walked with boundless energy, praying ceaselessly as she did so. She wore a tunic with the inscription ‘Peace Pilgrim’ in front and ‘25,000 miles for Peace’ at the back. Her only possessions in her pockets were a foldable toothbrush, a comb, and papers with her message of peace for distribution.
Hers was an extraordinary calling, as called for by the turbulent times during which she lived. By the time she started her pilgrimage in 1953, people all over the world had been traumatized by the two World Wars. It was also a time when the Korean War was raging, the Vietnam war, and the Cold War between America and Russia.
Peace Pilgrim describes her preparation for her calling, which she said took 15 years, and invites everyone to take up these steps for spiritual growth. The first preparation is about having a positive approach towards life’s problems, by following the Golden Rule of doing unto others what you would like them to do unto you, and by overcoming evil with good. The second preparation consists of aligning our lives to God’s will and bringing our lives into harmony with the laws that govern the universe. The third preparation consists of doing our part in the life pattern by doing all of the good things we feel motivated towards. The fourth is simplification of life and bringing it to the level of needs.
What is needed to achieve peace in the world? Peace comes at a price. Peace Pilgrim’s message on the price for peace is very simple yet profound: “The price of peace is to abandon hate and allow love to reign supreme in our hearts – love for all fellow human beings over the world.”
Peace identifies the lack of spirituality as the cause for the world’s problems in the following words: “We are so lacking in the spiritual side: whenever we discover all the technological advances, the first thing we do is to turn them into weapons and use them to kill people. This is because our spiritual well-being lags so far behind.”
She adds that peace comes when we abandon arrogance and greed, replacing them with humility, repentance and giving.
The way of love is the way of peace, which means overcoming evil by good. She explains:
Evil cannot be overcome by more evil. Evil can only be overcome by good. It is the lesson of the way of love. The contest in the world today is between the old way of attempting to overcome evil with evil, which with modern weapons would lead to complete chaos, and the way of overcoming evil with good, which would lead to a glorious and mature life.
The insights left behind by Peace Pilgrim are inexhaustible treasures we can all draw from and practice in our lives. We can all be peace pilgrims, although not necessarily walking on foot through different places, cities, and states. We can be peace pilgrims by following the simple but profound and enduring message of the way of love as the way of peace.
(This essay draws on the book Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Works. It is made available in a free downloadable form at www.peacepilgrim.org)
(Belinda F. Espiritu teaches at the University of the Philippines, Cebu).