Earth Caravan, a global interfaith pilgrimage whose mission is “to share peace, happiness, and healing in the world through words, art, music, shiatsu therapy and interreligious prayers,” was introduced to the life and legacy of Mattie J.T. Stepanek through two very powerful meetings during the week that celebrated the life and legacy of another peacemaker, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Steve Leeper, Founder of Peace Cultural Village in Hiroshima, Japan and liaison for the Americus/Konu sister city exchange program, invited Dr. Jeni Stepanek (Mama Peace) and Barry and Laura McConatha of the Mattie Stepanek Foundation, to take part in Earth Caravan’s Flame of Hope ceremony at the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta on Sunday, January 16. Although inclement weather kept them from going, Steve and his wife Elizabeth brought the Earth Caravan delegation down to Americus the following day, stopping to visit Kim Fuller of the Friends of Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains on the way.
The mayor of Hiroshima granted the Caravan special permission to bring the Hiroshima Peace Flame on the Caravan’s voyage from Japan to North America and the Middle East. This “Flame of Hope” was taken from one of the flames that burned continuously after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945. Other historical and sacred flames from around the world have now been added to it to symbolize “One Earth, One Humanity, One Flame”. Earth Caravan shares that the flame is a prayer for peace and is a physical manifestation of humankind’s common hope for peace.
Late Monday afternoon, January 17, Jeni, Barry and Laura welcomed the Flame of Hope to Taraji as they were introduced to the Earth Caravan delegation: Annie Bachman, Alice Schmitzhofe and her son Fabio, Lawrence Lefcort and his son Lou, and Yuzan Toyoda. The international delegation enjoyed learning more about the young poet and peacemaker, whose peace legacy is realized through the work of Mattie’s Foundation and whose spiritual legacy is realized through the work of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Guild.
During dinner that night, Jeni learned that the Flame would next be traveling north to the John F. Kennedy Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. After telling the delegation about the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park in Rockville, Maryland, a stop was added to include a visit to the park. Long-time Foundation supporter and friend Kathy Phelps, Rockville Mayor Bridget Newton and Mattie J.T. Stepanek Guild members Cheryl Kerwin and Jenn Lynn Kerwin were on hand as Annie Bachman and Alice Schmitzhofe of Earth Caravan introduced the Flame to Mattie.
Jeni summed up these powerful events with, “Thank you to all who have shared wishes and prayers for this Flame of Hope, and to those who share them in the ongoing days and years and times and truths of life, as we each and as we all make choices that spark hope and become a guiding light for peace. You matter.”