Monks to pray for peace at Hanford

By Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald, July 24, 2007

Interfaith Peace Walk 2007

Kennewick, WA (USA) -- Buddhist monks will gather outside the Hanford fence today to pray for peace and remember the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, nearly 62 years ago.

Joined by people who share their wish for an end to nuclear weapons, the three monks and other visitors from Japan have been walking through Northwest communities since July 16 in a pilgrimage for peace.

It's not a political protest but a prayer walk, emphasized organizers from the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist Temple on Bainbridge Island.

"This is literally the perfect place for you to come and do prayers," said Gene Weisskopf, vice chairman of World Citizens for Peace, as he welcomed them in an opening ceremony Monday at John Dam Plaza in Richland. "You are literally walking back into history."

Workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation just north of Richland produced the plutonium used in the bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

Interfaith Peace Walk 2007 arrived in Richland on Monday and about 15 people made the short walk from Christ the King School to the park, beating drums as rush-hour traffic roared by.

"I feel like we are making a difference," said Gizi Lewis, 13, of Richland.

Just by being visible, the walkers force people along their pilgrimage to think about issues they don't really want to, Weisskopf said.

The destruction of 9/11 shocked Americans, but "you in Japan have an appreciation for whole cities being destroyed," he said.

It's not often that the Japanese hear such sentiments from Americans and the monks appreciate those who have joined them to walk for peace, said the Rev. Gyoki Makino, visiting from Tokyo and speaking through an interpreter.

He also is sorry for the victims of 9/11, he said. In Japan it is not just the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki who suffered and died, but also the 600,000 who died in conventional air attacks, he said.

Most people have an image of Buddhists as people engaged in quiet meditation, said the Rev. Senji Kanaeda, who was born near Nagasaki. But sometimes they need to show their values outside the temple, he said.

A respect for life is central to Buddhist teachings just as it is important in Christianity, he said.

As peace activists and the Buddhists have walked through towns and rural areas, people have heard the drums beating and have come out of their houses to offer food and water, said Bob Torres of Sacramento.

"I can tell my children and grandchildren I did something," he said.

Today's walk starts at Christ the King School at 9 a.m., and walkers expect to arrive at the south gate of Hanford's 300 Area about 11:30 a.m. for prayer and reflection. Mid-Columbia residents are welcome to join them.

Although walkers originally planned to travel along Stevens Drive to Hanford, on Monday night organizers were debating whether to shift to a cooler route along the Columbia River because of the high temperatures expected today.

The Interfaith Peace Walk will conclude Aug. 6, the anniversary of the first atomic bomb dropped on Japan, at Bangor, 20 miles west of Seattle. It's the largest active nuclear weapons depot in the world.