by Carolyn Kaberline
Special to The Leaven
PERRY — St. Aloysius Church in Meriden and St. Theresa Church here found light — always a symbol of Christmas — even more so this year as they received a candle whose flame had been lit at the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The flame’s trip to Kansas began when “one of my sister Jamie’s Scout leaders heard about it,” said Joe Winebrenner, 18, a member of Boy Scout Troop 59 in Lawrence. “I thought it was a great idea.”
After Joe and Jamie and their grandfather Douglas, all of Ozawkie, made the necessary arrangements, the flame arrived in Meriden on Dec. 17 and was presented to Father Jim Moster, OFM Cap., pastor of both parishes. It was then taken on to Perry by Father Jim on Dec. 19.
“The flame arrived in a lantern in a pail with sand in the bottom,” said Father Jim. “It was also in a seven- day light, which was transferred to us as a gift in a pillar light placed in a glass chimney.”
Although the history of the flame can be traced back to lamps kept burning at the Grotto of the Nativity for over a thousand years, the transportation of the flame around the world is relatively new.
According to the Peace Light website, for the past 24 years, “a child from upper Austria has lit two blast-proof miners’ lamps from the grotto flame. The miners’ lamps are then carried on an Austrian Airlines jet from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Vienna, Austria, from where the Peace Light is distributed at a Service of Dedication to Scout delegations from across Europe, who take it back with a message of peace to their own countries.”
Since 2004, Austrian Airlines has also flown lamps containing the Peace Light to New York City, where Scout leaders light lanterns and then spread out across the United States to share the message of peace that it represents.
“A gentleman from Jamie’s crew, Peter Houston, had a friend in New York who drove it to Colombia, Missouri, where Peter met him,” said Douglas Winebrenner, adding that Austrian Airlines charges nothing for its services. “Peter mentioned the Peace Light at a crew meeting and said he would have it at the next crew meeting. He also brought it to the Scout troop his son was in, and to roundtable, a monthly gathering of Scout leaders from the area.”
“Parishioners at both places seemed to be touched when it was explained as a special gift,” said Father Jim. “A goodly number took the flame to their homes.”
One person who took the flame home was Dr. Theresa King of Perry.
“I was so excited to have something from where Jesus was born,” said King, a member of St. Theresa. “I’ve had it sitting on the table all week, and I’m thinking of lighting another candle to keep it going longer.”
“I have never heard of anything like it. I liked how it spread,” she continued. “I looked at it on the altar at Christmas Eve Mass — and I can’t really describe it — but just being in the presence of that lit candle was a profound feeling. It made Christmas Eve Mass extra special.”
Josh Ellis, also a member of St. Theresa, said his kids enjoyed taking part in the tradition.
“My son, who is a Scout, was glad to have it going over the holidays and getting it home safely. We’ve had it on the kitchen table and talked about it as a family,” Ellis said. “We talked about how hard it must have been to get it here and how many lives it passed through on its way here.”
“I believe that the Peace Candle has been significant in the thoughts and hopes of the people, given the conditions in the world these days,” said Father Jim.
The “Christ the Light” theme, he said, has “perhaps touched many in ways they may not have realized before.”
And he believes the flame will probably be preserved in both parishes for the year in some form.
“At present it is a part of the manger scene in both places,” he said. “We talked about preserving it in the sanctuary light in one place.”
Although the flame arrived for Christmas, Joe Winebrenner was quick to point out that “it’s really not seasonal. The whole point is to keep the light going for a whole year.”