Walking across the nation for peace

by Lissette Rodriguez, Editor, Hamden journal, April 27, 2005

One man spreads his message one state at a time

Hamden, CT (USA) -- Jack Sibbald, 34, of Alaska attended Hamden's Earth Day Fair and Forum during a stop here along a cross-country journey he describes as a "peace pilgrimage."

Following the two-year anniversary of the United States invasion of Iraq, Sibbald said he wanted to make a statement on behalf of world peace. He made his way to what was formerly The World Trade Center, now known as Ground Zero, as part of his cross-country trek.

While in Hamden, he was a guest of resident Carla Russo, an area teacher, who invited him into her home after hearing about his mission and experiences.

"I just brought him in," said Russo. "At first it was a bit weird having a stranger in the house, but after I saw him talking to the kids, I felt like he was a part of the family. Now my kids don't want him to leave."

Russo said Sibbalt was only supposed to stay in the area for a couple days, but thanks to some powerful persuasion, she managed to get him to stay until last Friday, which coincidentally happened to be Earth Day.

According to Russo, Sibbalt with the help of local officials, arranged a mini-pilgrimage to Sleeping Giant Park, where he invited members of the community to walk with him for peace.

From there, Sibbalt proceeded on his way toward Deer Park Monastery in Escondido California, where his peace walk ultimately will come to an end.

Accompanied with only a back pack filled with clothes, money, necessities and his dog, Birch, Sibbald made his way to Battery Park in New York March 20, where he led a meditation walk to Ground Zero in memory of those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, the men and women in combat today and the people of Iraq who have fallen victim to war.

According to Sibbalt, he gained much of his knowledge on peace and activism from his role model, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk.

Hanh came from Vietnam to the United States in 1968 to work for peace but was eventually exiled from his country. However, he has continued to teach about Buddhism and meditation. After having gone to a retreat with Hanh, Sibbalt's own pilgrimage began to take shape, he said.

After careful consideration, Sibbalt said he needed to do something positive to spread the word of peace. That's when he made it his mission to start to walk.

"I thought to myself, we are in the middle of a war," said Sibbalt. "And in the middle of the war, let's have a peace walk. One of my big influences is Thich Nhat Hanh. After visiting him and hearing what he has done, it just made sense to get out there and spread the word."

Originally from Colorado, Sibbalt now resides in Alaska, a place he has become very fond of.

"It is just a magnificent place," Sibbalt said. "You see the vast space and wonder, who lives here? Not many people. I love it, and an Alaskan is something I like to be known as."

Making his way from New York, Sibbalt said he has definitely had some rough times. The weather, the walking, the money and the shelter have all been critical factors in his experience. However, he said nothing would stop him from completing his journey.

"There were times when I thought to myself, I can't walk anymore," he said. "But the people I've encountered have been great. They pull over on the highways, some offer me food, others money, and even places to stay."

Sibbalt recalled sitting outside a church in the rain and having a priest come out and offer him shelter, something he said helps motivate this journey.

"I have slept outside," he said. "I have gone without eating. I been tired, but I have seen how people reach out and help, and it makes it worth it."

Sibbalt said he has made it his life to pass on ideas of spiritualism and peace by means of retreats, peaceful protests, and fundraisers, something he hopes will affect the lives of other across the world.

"My biggest thing is that we have to act for peace," he said. "We have to have a spiritual activism as well as a physical one."