CS PHOTOS BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Peace Camp participants make a pledge to interact peacefully during camp activities Aug. 2 at Saint Francis International School in Silver Spring.
CS PHOTOS BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Peace Camp participants make a pledge to interact peacefully during camp activities Aug. 2 at Saint Francis International School in Silver Spring.

St. Francis International School in Silver Spring opened its doors over the summer for young people to learn how to make their community and their world a much more peaceful place.

This was the second year that the school has hosted a “Peace Camp” where participants explore what it means to be what one camp organizer called “being peacemakers not peace breakers.”

M.J. Park, who along with her husband Jerry organizes and facilitates Peace Camps at various locations throughout the year, said the message of the camp is simple: “We have to start loving and stop hating,” she said. She added that the camp also teaches participants about famous peacemakers such as Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day and Dr. Martin Luther King.

The couple has based their Little Friends for Peace organization in Mount Rainier, and are members of Holy Redeemer Parish in Washington. They host similar camps throughout the metropolitan Washington area and as far away as Illinois, Michigan and even El Salvador.

“We want the children to experience peace and learn tools and practices they can use the rest of their lives,” she said, adding that the overall message of the peace came is “care for self, care for others and care for this place (earth).”

This is the second year that St. Francis International School and St. Camillus Parish have joined to host the camp. Last year, 60 children participated. This year, the registrations nearly doubled to 110 campers.

The theme this year was “Peace in Myself, Peace in the World.”

“We hope they (campers) come away with a peacefulness and mindfulness in the face of chaos,” said Franciscan Father Chris Posch, the pastor of St. Camillus Parish. “Conflict resolution and anger management are skills that are so important. We want to see the kids spread this – they can share this with their families, other adults and teens.”

Peace Camp provided various activities – such as arts and crafts, cooperative games, peace circles, guest visitors and learning about famous peacemakers – that focused on cooperation and ways to deal with problems in a peaceful manner.

Father Chris said the fun activities offered at the camp were “undercover education” where the participants “learn by playing and singing and having fun.”

“It’s just brilliant – the whole method, the process, the tools and the education,” he said. “The outcome is to teach kids how to relax and channel their energies in a positive way.”

Among the guests who visited the camp during the week was Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville, who, Father Chris said,  “visited and prayed with the campers.”

While a majority of the participants at the five-day camp came from St. Camillus Parish and St. Francis International School, a couple of the campers were from nearby St. Stephen Lutheran Church.

“We are hoping this spreads to our neighbors,” Father Chris said.

Jerry Park said he would like to see participants “change their mindset from a win-lose culture to a win-win world.”

“We want to foster gratitude and appreciation. We want them (participants) to think ‘how can I be a source of peace for others?’ We want them to lean how to answer chaos with joy and answer violence with de-escalation.”

Vanessa Donfack said she participated in the camp because “I want to learn more about peace and I want to learn how to spread peace around.”

She added that the peace skills learned at the camp “we can take back to our families. We can share peace and show peace to those around us.”

Toby Harkleroad, principal of St. Francis International School, where the camp was held, said what is taught at the camp “dovetails perfectly with what we do at St. Francis International School and what St. Camillus Parish is doing.

He said the peace camp “shows the wonderful commitment” his parish and school have for the community. He added that “every school and parish can have this because she have to be about teaching peace, we have to be intentional about peace.”

“We are planting the seeds here that the kids can bring to their homes, their friends and their peers,” he said. “Every school, every parish can have something like this where we teach about peace and are intentional about peace.”

“We hear the bishops, we hear the Gospels say ‘love your enemies, love our neighbor’,” he added. “And if you’ve ever wondered how to do that, this is an incredible way to learn.”

The campers departed after a week at Peace Camp, but the commitment to making peace has continued at the parish and school. After the end of camp for young people, a one-day peace camp for adults was hosted at the parish. Father Chris said the aim was to “have peace injected into both parish and school life.”

“The camp stresses that we must stop and think before we act, and it gives me so much satisfaction to see people getting it,” Father Chris said. “It’s very rewarding. It offers a wonderful reflection process which is something that is needed by all ages.”

Also, the parish hosted a replica of Juan Diego’s tilma with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe that has been traveling around the Archdiocese of Washington since last May. On Sept 20 – one day before the United Nations’ International Day of Peace – the parish held a multi-lingual recitation of the rosary followed by an intercultural Mass for Peace in the presence of the pilgrimage tilma.

“Little by little we are trying to form peace leaders who will espouse and live peace,” Father Chris said.