"We will pray," said Ashin Nayaka, a monk in the International Burmese Monks Organization. "We will pray for the people in Burma. We will sit in meditation. We will march peacefully, and we will ask the leaders to help us change Burma."
Burmese monks want the world to focus on a military junta that violently cracked down on monks during the Southeast Asian nation's 2007 "Saffron Revolution." Tibetans want to draw attention to the plight of mountainous Tibet, a former theocracy invaded by China's communist army in 1950 and later absorbed into the republic.
Dave Ackerman of Gibsonia, a local organizer, predicts 300 to 400 Tibetan Buddhists are coming to Pittsburgh, and maybe more. A weekend conference in Minneapolis, home to thousands of exiled Tibetans, is expected to enlist more volunteers to make the trek to Pittsburgh, and the popular Tibet Truth Internet site is urging Tibetans nationwide to do so.
Once here, they'll mix with the region's small Tibetan and Burmese populations and many more area college students expected to pray and rally with them.
"The thing about the issue of Tibet is that the media often don't pay attention unless somebody does something violent. But Tibetans don't try to be violent. The Tibetans who are coming here are going to be peaceful because that's their way," said Ackerman.
Ackerman said the Tibetan monks and their followers will stay at local Unitarian-Universalist churches and at people's homes.
Margaret Howe, a program director at a Bay Area Buddhist center, the Clear View Project, said the Burmese monks will stay at the City of Asylum, a refuge for exiled writers in the North Side and the home of exiled Burmese author Khet Mar. She expects more than 200 exiled Burmese dissidents to join them.
"Burmese monks eat one meal, and that's before noon," said Howe. "They'll have Burmese food cooked by the Burmese community. It's a very important dynamic in Burma that the people feed the monks food and the monks serve the people. It's an important cycle of receiving and offering."
After the Burmese monks' Thursday morning "peace walk" from the North Side to Point State Park — Tibetan monks starting from Oakland will meet them there — the spiritual Burmese leader Venerable U Kovida will speak at 3 p.m. at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in the North Side. On Friday, both groups plan to walk from Oakland toward the convention center, part of a larger "People's March" sponsored by the Thomas Merton Center in Garfield that's expected to draw thousands.
The monks will walk at the front because march organizers believe their presence calms others.
"Many people say, 'What good does it do to march quietly or stand before a building and pray?' But you have to remember that many of these monks and those who have followed them here are desperate people," said Mary-Kate Oreovicz, an International Tibet Movement organizer from Bloomington, Ind.
"Many who are coming to Pittsburgh have been tortured or imprisoned. When they show up, it means something. People in a march and the world leaders meeting both have to tell themselves, 'We now have to pay attention to them.' "