At the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, burns a flame at the site of Christ’s birth. This flame, kept lit for centuries, is the Bethlehem Peace Light, symbolizing peace, love, and goodness. Christian nations from around the world take turns donating the oil to ensure that this Peace Light is never extinguished. It is said that in the 12th century a crusader brought home a gift of the Peace Light for his family to share this great goodness.
Sharing of the Bethlehem Peace Light in modern times began in 1986, when a radio station in Linz, Austria, began a charitable relief mission for children in need. Since then, every year before Christmas, a chosen child lights a flame from the Bethlehem Peace Light. This flame is then flown to Vienna, from where scouts of every nationality have taken it upon themselves as their mission to distribute the Bethlehem Peace Light to as many communities as possible.
At first, the Bethlehem Peace Light was primarily distributed in Europe. By train, bus, car, and bicycle the Light is transported from city to city and shared especially with those, like the elderly and sick, who need some extra Christmas warmth. People also use the Bethlehem Peace Light to light their candles during Christmas dinner and in churches during Christmas services.
Plast, the Ukrainian scouts, have been involved in distributing the Bethlehem Peace Light in Ukraine for over 10 years. Hand to hand, city to city, they deliver the Light to churches, hospitals, orphanages, and communities in every province of Ukraine. The Bethlehem Peace Light has now become a part of the Ukrainian Christmas tradition.
In 2008, Austrian scouts flew the Bethlehem Peace Light to the United States. Representatives from various scouting organizations met at the airport and began the distribution of the flame throughout this country. Plast scouts were among the representatives present and first began the distribution of the Bethlehem Peace Light among Plast members and the Ukrainian community.
On December 4, 2009, the Bethlehem Peace Light once again flew into JFK International airport in New York. This time the Ukrainian Plast group “Ti, Scho Hrebli Rvut” participated with other scouts to light their lanterns in a beautiful ceremony at Our Lady of the Skies chapel at the airport. In addition, in a coordinated effort with the Boy Scouts from Minnesota, the Plast scouts distributed the Bethlehem Peace Light from New York in the East to Seattle in the West, and from Winnipeg in the north to North Carolina in the south.
This year the Bethlehem Peace Light will be arriving at JFK airport on November 29th. The Ukrainian Plast group “Ti, Scho Hrebli Rvut” will once again be there to accept the Light from the Austrian scouts and send it on its journey. We are hoping this year to reach all of our Plast members in the U.S. and Canada. Therefore, we are encouraging all Plast members to join in this beautiful Christmas tradition and help bring the Bethlehem Peace Light to your parishes and communities. If you are not a member of Plast, but would like to join in the distribution of the Peace Light, please let us know and we will see if we can coordinate our efforts. We are only asking that you please send photos as the Light is passed on from place to place, in order to help us better track its progress.