On Saturday, June 16, 2007, approximately fifty people met in Richmond, British Columbia, for the purpose of linking women of peace in Canada and the USA.
The beautiful seaside location of the Steveston Community Centre was the location of a moving Bridge of Peace Ceremony in which women from around the world were linked. In this relatively small group, there were women of African descent, as well as Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Iranian, Indian, German, Austrian and Romanian backgrounds. It was truly a melting pot right there in the room, even though all participants reside in either Canada or the United States. So bringing women together across the border between Canada and the USA was, at least symbolically, a world-level accomplishment.
The Bridge of Peace Ceremony emphasizes the shared humanity of everyone, beyond nationality, religion, and ethnicity. It was created by WFWP leaders in the 1990s, when thousands of Japanese women came to the United States to meet American women. In 1995, fifty years had passed since the end of World War II, but division and resentfulness still lurked in the hearts of many citizens of the two formerly enemy nations. The Bridge of Peace Ceremony was created to help resolve that residual conflict, with the understanding that women have a leadership position in achieving world peace.
In 1995 and 1996, dozens of Japanese-American sisterhood programs were held around the United States. Actual bridge replicas were erected on stages where the dramatic Bridge of Peace ceremonies were carried out. In the programs, Japanese and American women would line up for their turn across the bridge. One Japanese woman and one American woman would step onto the bridge from either end, while the music to "Let There Be Peace on Earth" was playing. Each woman would walk toward the center; at the halfway point, they would bow to one another in a symbolic gesture of apology for the historic misdeeds of their respective nations. Then the women would meet in the middle of the bridge and exchange a heartfelt hug, representing reconciliation and friendship, before returning to their seats and exchanging small gifts and personal information.
Implicit in this ceremony is the understanding that before people can overcome the past and become true friends, each must offer an apology and receive forgiveness from the other. This principle is explained every time the Bridge of Peace Ceremony is conducted, so participants are mindful of the need for reconciliation based on forgiveness. Without exception, wherever the Bridge of Peace Ceremony is conducted, tears flow like water under a bridge.
Since those original programs, thousands of other Bridge of Peace events have been conducted by WFWP all around the world. In California, Sheri Rueter, Vice President of WFWP, USA, and other organizers launched an Interracial Sisterhood Project. They brought women and men together from the black, Hispanic and white communities of Los Angeles, earning the designation of a "Promising Practice" for racial harmony from President Clinton in 1997.
Sisterhoods have been created in the Middle East, as well. In 2004, five hundred women from around the world went to Jerusalem to participate in a historic pilgrimage called "Women of Peace," organized jointly by WFWP and the Universal Peace Federation. Women of all ages and nationalities, including Palestinians and Israelis, embraced one another in the Bridge of Peace Ceremony.
In Washington State, Friederike Buczyk took over as state chairwoman for WFWP at the beginning of 2007. She and former state chairwoman Patricia Couweleers decided to hold a Bridge of Peace program between the Washington State chapter and that of the Richmond, British Columbia chapter of western Canada, headed by Kati Brisbois. Kati also recently assumed leadership of her chapter.
"There's nothing like a Bridge of Peace™ program to break the ice and meet new people," Patricia advised. So the idea was born, and the work began in early 2007. Many WFWP members had teenaged daughters who pitched in to help create invitations and reach out to new guests. They also participated in the program itself.
The keynote speaker for the program was Mrs. Susan Bradbury of Bellingham, Washington, whose efforts for peacebuilding have been profiled in this ENewsletter previously (January/February 2007). Susan is founder of The Sound Essence Project, a Bellingham, Washington nonprofit corporation. (www.soundessenceproject.org) Her organization brings diverse people together through cross-cultural exchanges. Susan has personally visited Mongolia, Africa and other places where people survive under some of the harshest conditions.
Her talk was entitled "Women and the Fabric of Peace," and she urged American and Canadian women to be grateful for the multitude of blessings we enjoy. We should be mindful that a large percentage of the world's population does not have things like indoor plumbing, paved roads, or access to education. We women should never take our blessings for granted, Susan stressed, nor quit trying to help the neediest people.
This event was orchestrated from the Canadian side by Kati Brisbois and Mrs. Tessie Rebello. As usual, there was excitement after the matching of sisters who crossed the Bridge of Peace and everyone greatly enjoyed the beautiful and plentiful banquet that followed. Many WFWP members gave their full support to the event, coming from as far away as Seattle and North Bend, Washington, as well as the greater Vancouver metropolitan area.
To become true women of peace, we must show the world that we can embrace, love and forgive others beyond our comfort zone. WFWP's Bridge of Peace ceremonies enable women to affirm the feminine qualities that we must use to bring unity and harmony in our everyday life and beyond.