Persons, places and things: On the road to India

Barb Arland-Fye
The Dalai Lama expresses appreciation at his home in northern India as Bishop Thomas Zinkula prepares to give the peacemaker the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award.

By Barb Arland-Fye

The Dalai Lama’s name had been on the approved list to receive the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award in Davenport for many years. But how would we get him here? The Nobel Peace Prize recipient lives in northern India where he serves in exile as spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists.

The interfaith coalition that nominates candidates and organizes the award ceremony is relatively small and has modest resources. We had a sliver of an opportunity in 2010, when we learned that the Dalai Lama had a speaking engagement at the University of Northern Iowa.
Could we invite him to take a side trip to Davenport, a mere 150 miles from the University of Northern Iowa? We sent an invitation and waited, hopefully. “We came as close as Cedar Falls, but because of his schedule we just weren’t able to make it happen,” recalled Kent Ferris, who leads our coalition and serves as the Davenport Diocese’s Social Action director.

Fast-forward seven years. Bishop Thomas Zinkula, newly ordained Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport, saw a display of names of Pacem in Terris award recipients at diocesan headquarters. “You have a name missing from this list,” Ferris recalled the bishop saying. That name was the Dalai Lama.


Efforts began, once again, to honor the Dalai Lama with the award named for Pope John XXIII’s encyclical “Pacem in Terris,” (Peace on Earth), released in 1963 during a tense time in the Cold War era. However, the now-83-year-old practitioner of inner peace and world peace has curtailed his travels. Kent asked Bishop Zinkula, “Would you be willing to travel to India?”

The bishop, who spent two months in India on sabbatical in 2011 and developed deep friendships there, said he would be open to making the journey. He sent a letter to the Dalai Lama dated Sept. 4, 2018, that included names of some previous Pacem in Terris award recipients – Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu and Dorothy Day among them.

On Oct. 9, 2018, Bishop Zinkula received a response. The Dalai Lama would be open to a meeting with the bishop if he were able to come to India. Coalition members were excited. Taking the award to a recipient is unusual but not unprecedented. Bishop Martin Amos, who led our diocese before his retirement (2017), traveled to France in 2013 to present the award to L’Arche founder Jean Vanier, who was unable to travel to Davenport.

I accompanied the bishop on that trip to report on the presentation. It was a blessing to journey to the place where Jean Vanier began his work to build caring relationships which foster the inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities so they have a sense of belonging in the world.

Three years later, Bishop Amos presented the award to the community of Thich Nhat Hanh in California. Katie Kiley, another coalition member, accompanied the bishop for that presentation to honor the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master, teacher, author and peace activist. He was ill and unable to travel.

Earlier this year, Bishop Zinkula learned that he would have a 10-minute audience with the Dalai Lama on March 4. “We needed to decide who should accompany him,” Kent said. My previous experience in France and journalism background gave me the green light. I was blessed once again to journey with our diocese’s bishop to cover a historic moment: our Catholic bishop presenting a peace award to a Buddhist monk renowned for his efforts to foster peace among peoples and religions.

Join us April 9 at 7 p.m. at the Rogalski Center on the campus of St. Ambrose University in Davenport for a local celebration of the award to the Dalai Lama. Bishop Zinkula will share his reflections on the presentation in India.

Now, more than ever, we need to honor and to emulate our peacemakers.

(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at Watch for future stories about Bishop Zinkula’s India experiences.)

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