Sunday at the 10:30 Mass at St. Patrick’s Church in Rome, the new home for American Catholics, there were a lot of candles burning, and there was a wonderful story linked with one bright light!

There were, of course, the usual four Advent candles on a wreath, with the third being lit that day, a light pink shade for Gaudete Sunday. There were the usual candles on the altar, of course, but Fr. Peter Abdella, the celebrant that morning, pointed out that there was an extra candle in the middle of the altar whose flame came all the way from Bethlehem!

I saw the Russo family go to the altar after Mass to take that small but very important lantern from the altar and asked what the story was. Pete and Teresa and their son Nicholas and I chatted after Mass in Tara Hall, below the church where, on Sundays, the community offers coffee, fruit juices, sweet rolls and time to see old friends and make new ones.

Pete told me he is a cub scout master, and he explained that their son Nicholas is a member of the Cub Scout of America pack 236 based here in Rome. The lantern they brought to Mass was just one of many from around Italy that were lit from a flame that originated in Bethlehem, Palestine, from an eternal flame at the birthplace of Jesus.

Here is Nicholas with the Bethlehem Peace Light –

Here is the background to the Bethlehem Light of Peace:

In the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem there is an oil lamp that has burned ceaselessly for centuries, fed by oil donated by all the Christian nations of the earth, on a rotating basis,

Every year in December, other lights are lit from that flame and are taken throughout the world as symbol of peace and fraternity among peoples.
This tradition was born from a Christmas philanthropic initiative – Light in the Darkness – of ORF, Austrian radio and Television in Linz. Within the framework of this initiative, spontaneous offerings are gathered to help children who are handicapped, socially marginalized or even needy foreigners, such as refugees.

Again, in the framework of this initiative, ORF in 1986 for the first time gave birth to “Operation Bethlehem Light of Peace,” intending it to be a sign of gratitude for the many offerings.

Just before Christmas a child from Austria went to Palestine and lit a light from the lamp in the Grotto of Bethlehem and that was then brought back to Linz on an Austrian Airlines plane.

From Linz, with the cooperation of Austrian national railways, the light was distributed throughout the country.

From 1986 on, Viennese scouts decided to collaborate in distributing the Light of Peace, thus putting into practice one of the key points of scouting, love for one’s neighbor expressed in daily good deeds.

Over the years, both the number of participants and the enthusiasm for bringing the Light of Peace to people via Scout groups grew exponentially. And now, nearly every year the Bethlehem Light of Peace is brought to a new European country.

From La Stampa newspaper December 17, 2017:

The Bethlehem Light of Peace is now in 20 European countries. It came to the United States in 2001.

I found this website: http://www.peacelight.org It is dedicated to spreading the continuous flame Bethlehem Peace Light across the North American continent. The Peace Light this year arrived in the United States, JFK International Airport, on Saturday, November 25, 2017. A distribution ceremony was held at Our Lady of the Skies Catholic Chapel, Terminal Four, starting at 3:00. The ceremony to distribute the peace flame began shortly after its arrival, as did the greeting of the Peace light couriers, via Austrian Airlines flight from Vienna, Austria.

Other news about the Peace Light in America:

The Peace Light first came to New York in 2001 by Canadian Scouts who brought it to Ground Zero. In 2002, DHL delivered the Peace Light as a gift from Belgian Scouts and Guides to the Boy Scouts of America in NY. In 2003 the light didn’t make it to the U.S. Fortunately, members of the diocesan Scouting committee had kept the 2002 Peace Light burning and spread that around the diocese.

In 2004 the Austrian Scout Movement, Austrian Airlines and Boy Scouts of America International Division arranged to bring the 2004 Peace Light to New York on Dec. 4. Two security guards and Dr. Thomas Ertlthaler, international commissioner of Austrian Scouting, flew from Vienna with the Peace Light in two explosion-proof, British mining lamps, fueled by smokeless paraffin oil. Just 11 days earlier, Austrian Scouts had extracted the light from the eternal flame in Bethlehem.

Austria Airlines have been the bearers of the flame to American since its very first voyage in 2001.

And this from Wikipedia:

Since Austria joined the European Union (1995), the Austrian Member of the European Parliament Paul Rübig initiated the tradition to bring the Peace Light of Bethlehem to Strasbourg to hand the flame over to the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the city itself.

In 2007 a delegation of Guides and Scouts from Austria, Germany, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian National Authority together lit the Peace Light in Bethlehem.Also in 2005 the International Commissioner of Austria Thomas Ertlthaler passed the Peace Light to a delegation of Guides and Scouts from the Palestinian National Authority under the leadership of Saed Shomali, the International Commissioner of the Palestinian Scout Association.