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Joe Kenny is a reporter for the St. Louis Review and Catholic St. Louis.
Beats: Sports; Catholic social teaching: Crime and justice, immigration, missions, multicultural traditions; Catholic Charities federated agencies; Senior citizens and aging.
Geographic areas covered: Parishes and schools in the South City, South County and Mid County Deaneries.
Students at Most Sacred Heart School in Eureka scurried along the hillside next to Interstate 44 and stuck a few hundred pinwheels in the ground to make a symbol of peace.
Instead of the peace symbol, dove or olive branch, the students made a cross on that hill Sept. 21. It came as a pleasant surprise to the parish pastor, Father Joe Kempf, and principal, Monica Wilson. Father Kempf took one look at the cross and remarked, "That's our path to peace."
The International Day of Peace is observed around the world each year on Sept. 21. Established in 1981 by the United Nations, it asks people to build a culture of peace. The 2017 Peace Day Theme was "Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity for All."
Pinwheels for Peace is a nonpolitical art installation project started in 2005 by two art teachers in Florida as a tie-in to the peace day and a way for students to express thoughts about war and peace, tolerance and living in harmony with others. One student for example, wrote a prayer on his pinwheel: "Dear Jesus, let us have peace in this world now and forever. Amen."
Most Sacred Heart School has observed the peace day with pinwheels for several years. Other Catholic schools across the archdiocese hold similar observances.
"There's so much stuff going on. The timing of this is perfect," said Cameron Kissel, an eighth-grader, noting that he'd like to see "a nice community" where no one is hurt and there is no crime.
Another eighth-grader, Ella Vergara, said "it would be nice to have peace in our community because there hasn't been very much of it lately."
With protests and civil unrest in St. Louis, "prayers are certainly needed," Wilson said, adding that the school's location on a hill overlooking the highway is ideal for expressing a message of peace. In addition to the pinwheels, the school spelled out P-E-A-C-E on a fence along with the peace sign.
Before the students placed their pinwheels on the hill, Father Kempf and Father Leo Spezia, associate pastor, led a prayer service in the church. Seventh-grader Caroline Keithley spoke to the students about the need to ask God for unity and peace, telling them that "when we find it hard to find peace in our hearts or peace in the world, we turn to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, to show us the way."
Father Kempf told the students that working side by side and caring for one another can make a difference. Turning to God in a prayer, he said: "May your peace burn brightly in this world."
Peace is "a gift from God," and "it is our call to be people of peace," he said. He gave examples of how to listen to someone who is different or has conflicting views and, though perhaps still disagreeing, realizing "we're in it together."
Later, he said children often teach lessons to adults, since they often understand that "deep down we're all much more alike than different and that it matters deeply how we treat one another."
Last year more than 4.5 million pinwheels were placed on International Peace Day in about 3,500 locations, the United Nations reported.
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