“There is perhaps no surer road to peace than the one that starts from little islands and oases of genuine kindness, islands and oases constantly growing in number and being continually joined together until eventually they ring the world.”
-Dominique Georges Pire, Nobel acceptance speech, 1958.
Tomorrow marks the centenary anniversary of the birth of the Dominican friar and peace activist, Georges Charles Clement Ghislain Pire, born on February 10, 1910 in Dinant Belgium.
At the age of four, Pire was forced to flee with his family from advancing German troops during the First World War. The family spent four years in France before returning to their home, which had been destroyed during the conflict. Years later he studied classics and philosophy at the Collège de Bellevue in Dinant, and took the name Henri Dominique after entering the Dominican monastery of La Sarte in Huy, Belgium. He attended the Dominican university of Rome, Collegio Angelico, and in 1936 was granted a doctorate in theology. After receiving his doctorate, he studied philosophy and sociology at Louvain University for a year before returning to the monastery at Huy to teach.
During and after World War II, Pire provided aid services and camps for children. The camps were essentially missions that fed thousands of Belgian and French children during a time of great conflict. He also worked for a resistance intelligence service throughout the course of the war, where he assisted an underground network that returned downed flyers to Allied forces. For his work during the war, he was awarded the National Recognition Medal, the War Medal, the Military Cross with Palms and the Resistance Medal with Crossed Swords.
It was not until he reached the age of thirty-nine, however, that Pire began his most widely remembered work with European refugees. Pire began by establishing a sponsorship program, in which private individuals would send letters and packages to refugees that were still living in various camps. Soon thereafter, he began helping many refugees to leave their camps, initially by setting up four complexes in Belgium where individuals could live and receive care for the rest of their lives. All of the homes were supported by voluntary work and donations, a common theme of Pire’s biography.
He later expanded his efforts, establishing seven European Villages for refugees at locations in Austria, Belgium and Germany. As part of this effort, he founded an organization to oversee the villages, called Aid to Displaced Persons, which became an international organization in 1957.
A defining component of Dominique Pire’s programs was their targeting of specific types of refugees. His efforts largely benefitted the elderly, the weak and individuals who could or would not easily be reintroduced to society. Pire sought to help people who had little hope of rebuilding a life for themselves and their families without some kind of intimate personal intervention. It was mainly for this particular work that Pire was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1958.
(Image courtesy of the Nobel Foundation)
Pire used the attention garnered by the Nobel Prize to expand his work. He founded the University of Peace at Huy in 1960, the stated primary purpose of which was to serve as “a University where the participants are instructed in the surest path to peace.” He also founded a new global organization, The Heart Open to the World, which sought to enhance international fraternity.
One of the final projects initiated by Pire was a series of programs that he called Islands of Peace. Pire’s idea was to establish inter-village collaborative partnerships in parts of Pakistan that would seek to improve food production, education services and medical care. The project structure involved the use of outside technical experts to start the programs, with control of the programs eventually being turned over to the local inhabitants.
Though Linus Pauling and Dominique Pire were separated by occupation and their own particular institutions, they both had a vested interest in peace. A substantial portion of the correspondence between Pauling and Pire is a series of letters discussing their contributions to the world peace movement. As one reads the letters, an interesting discourse plays out, stern but polite, in which the two men debate the value of their own individual methods.
After a number of years, another letter from Pire requested Pauling’s help in raising funds for a peace exhibition. Pire also sent Pauling transcripts of three of his lectures; Pauling in turn sent Pire a petition meant to engage the President of the United States.
The petition sent by Pauling to Pire is the most notable of interactions between the two men. It was titled an Appeal by Recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, and called for an end to the war in Vietnam. The petition does not apportion blame to any of the particular combatants in the war, but is rather a plea to universally end violence and restore guidelines set forth by the Geneva Agreement. It was signed by a number of influential men with an interest in peace, including Father Pire, Linus Pauling and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Choosing to retire after nearly thirty-two years of service, Domique Pire spent the remainder of his days teaching and living at the monastery in Huy. While receiving care at Louvain Roman Catholic Hospital, he died on January 30, 1969, from complications following surgery.