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Congregations share Peace Light, mourn shooting victims

Union Leader Correspondent

December 19. 2012 8:43PM
Rev. Polly Shamy of the Union Congregational Church in Peterborough shares the flame from the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem during the Ecumenical Peace Light Service at Divine Mercy Parish in Peterborough Sunday night. (MEGHAN PIERCE/Union Leader Correspondent)

PETERBOROUGH - The flame came from the ancient city of Bethlehem, the attendees from different congregations, but the hearts and minds of everyone at Divine Mercy Church Sunday night were with the community of Newtown, Conn.

The occasion was the Ecumenical Peace Light Service, which brought together the Divine Mercy, All Saints and Union Congregational churches to share a flame brought from the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Four Peterborough pastors - Rev. Sarah Robbins-Cole and Rev. Adrian Robins-Cole of All Saint's Parish, Rev. Polly Shamy of the Union Congregational Church, and Rev. Gerald R. Belanger of Divine Mercy Parish - led the candlelight service, which more than 100 people attended despite the icy roads that night.

Peterborough-based Boy Scouts Troop 8 organized the bringing of the Peace Light to Peterborough.

Giving the homily, Belanger said it was the first time the churches had come together for a service.

"I'm thrilled it's finally come to pass, and I thank the Boy Scouts for providing us a reason to come together and share in a moment of prayer during this beautiful season," Belanger said.

The presence of the light reminded Belanger of his own trip to Bethlehem in Nov. of 1995, he said.

Belanger said when he and the group he was traveling with arrived in Israel, they found the country had been rocked by the assassination of its prime minister.

"And this evening finds our country in mourning, for a tragedy that has taken place in Newtown, Connecticut," Belanger said.

The Sunday-night service and its scripture readings - which spoke of hope, light and coming out of darkness - had been planned weeks ago to be solemn, hopeful and peaceful, Belanger said. "And I suppose from one perspective our scripture readings may seem inappropriate, given the sadness that is gripping our country."

"But is any of God's words ever inappropriate? Is it not rather that I am or am not in the mood to listen and reflect on the word of God?" Belanger asked. He then repeated from a scripture passage read earlier in the service, "The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. Upon those who dwell in the land of gloom a light has shown. For the yoke that burdened them you have smashed."

Before Belanger and the other pastors began sharing the flame among the 127 people gathered at the service, he said, "As God's children, we receive this light, and whether or not we physically take this light to our homes, spiritually we are called to keep this flame of faith alive in our hearts. As we pray for the people of Newtown, Connecticut, and in particular those 27 devastated families, as we pray for them we carry the light of faith for them, we ask almighty God to visit his people to mend their broken hearts, to scatter their darkness with this light."

Belanger then began singing the hymn "Christ Be Our Light," and those gathered joined in.

Once the flame was distributed throughout the church, the congregation sang "Silent Night," then observed a moment in silence.

"Gazing into the flickering candles and thinking about all that the flames represent was powerful and deeply meaningful, causing many to wipe away tears. Just days after the terrible tragedy in Newtown, Ct., the Peace Light brought some initial healing to those gathered," Troop 8 leader Lauren Martin said in an email on Monday.

Many in attendance brought candles and lanterns to bring the flame home with them.

For more than 1,000 years, lamps have been continually lit in the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Israel, the site where Jesus Christ was born.

Twenty-six years ago, the Peace Light Campaign was started by a group from Austria as part of a relief mission for children in need. It quickly transformed into an international peace campaign.

Every year, a child from Austria goes to the Grotto to bring a flame back to Vienna in two blast-proof miner's lamps. Martin said at the service that because of the violence in Israel, an adult was sent to retrieve the flame this year.

In Vienna, the flame is distributed at a service of dedication to Scouting delegations from more than 30 European countries. From Vienna, these Scouts take the Peace Light back to their own communities for use at ecumenical services throughout Europe.

The tradition was first brought to the United States in 2000 and to New Hampshire for the first time last year.

To learn more about the Peace Light, visit

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