Local celebration honors the Dalai Lama

Anne Marie Amacher
Bishop Thomas Zinkula talks about presenting the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award to the Dalai Lama. A local celebration was held April 9 at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

Bishop Zinkula makes peace leader’s presence felt

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — The Dalai Lama wasn’t present for a local celebration in his honor April 9, but Bishop Thomas Zinkula sought to make the peacemaker’s presence felt through a vivid description of their 10-minute encounter in India.

Bishop Zinkula traveled last month to the Buddhist temple in northern India where the Dalai Lama lives to present him with the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award. The 83-year-old Nobel Laureate has curtailed his travels because of age. In fact, he was in the hospital in India being treated for a chest infection the night of the award ceremony at St. Ambrose University’s Rogalski Center in Davenport.


During a slide show of photos from the trip to India, the bishop described his audience with the Dalai Lama, who is renowned for his commitment to inner and world peace. He is the spiritual leader of Tibet Buddhists; TIME magazine called him the “Face of Buddhism” in its March 18, 2019, cover story.

The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in the Himalayan foothills for 60 years, forced to flee from Tibet in 1959 “following the brutal suppression of the Tibetan national uprising in Lhasa by Chinese troops,” according to his website.

In 1987, amidst protests in Lhasa against a large-scale relocation of Han Chinese to Tibet, the Dalai Lama called for a five-point plan for Tibet to be a zone of peace. He never moved from his stance of peaceful resistance and in 1989 received the Nobel Peace Prize, said Joyce Singh and Judith Lee, who gave his biography during the local award ceremony.

Now he is an elderly man, a fact that struck Bishop Zinkula when he caught a glimpse of the Dalai Lama in a hallway prior to their audience. When they actually met more than an hour later, the bishop discovered that the Dalai Lama is mentally sharp, an attentive listener and engaging in conversation. “There was a sense of vigor and vitality about him,” the bishop said. “When we entered the room where the audience was held, he was gracious and he recognized and received each of us individually.” (Father Francis Bashyam, a friend of the bishop, and I also attended the audience.)

“What is the Dalai Lama like? He is like what you’d expect him to be — he is the Dalai Lama after all,” the bishop said. You’d expect him to exude peace, love, joy, warmth, and he did.”

The bishop had hoped that he, too, would be at peace during their audience. “But I was not feeling inner peace or world peace, to be honest with you. I was feeling some inner anxiety and disquiet,” he confessed. “Angst is the word for it.”

Then he explained why. A couple of days before the audience, the conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir disrupted air travel in India. The day of the audience, the bishop and his group experienced hassles dealing with a security officer that almost prevented them from being able to take photos at the event. Audiences before the bishop’s got backed up, leaving him worried about not being able to make the last flight out of town that day. That would have forced cancellation of his appointment to observe a Catholic Relief Services polio eradication project. And while waiting for the audience, he saw two security guards with guns in the inner courtyard.

“It was kind of ironic that while I was waiting to present the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award to the Dalai Lama, I wasn’t feeling the inner peace and world peace that is exemplified in the award and in the Dalai Lama. We’ve got a lot of work to do on this peace thing,” the bishop said.

The angst dissipated as Bishop Zinkula presented the award to the Dalai Lama. “He reacted visibly as I read the names of the members of the coalition. He turned to an aid with a pleased expression on his face. He clearly appreciated the diversity of the group.”

Speaking in English, the Dalai Lama “described the award as a great honor. He said that despite different views among the religions of the world, all convey the same message of love. All human beings are children of God, the Father. There are 7 billion children of one father. We are truly brothers and sisters. All human beings are of the same nature so we should all love one another and respect one another.”

The Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award is named for the encyclical written by Pope St. John XXIII in 1963. “There are now 48 who have received the award,” said Kent Ferris, the diocesan Social Action director who leads the coalition. “Many have also been honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. One has even been officially recognized by the Catholic Church as a saint (St. Teresa of Kolkata). There are many great stories and many threads that connect the award winners with each other and with world events and leaders over these past 50 plus years.”

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