History of the Peace Light
The Peace Light, symbolic of the Light of Christ especially evident at Christmas, promotes peace, harmony, and unity among all people of the world - every race, ethnicity, and creed. For several decades, the Scouts and others around the world have actively promoted global peace and harmony through sharing the Peace Light.
The Peace Light from Bethlehem campaign was originally organized in 1986 by ORF, the Austrian Broadcasting Company, as part of a large charitable relief mission Light into Darkness, for children in need in Austria and abroad. Since 1986, and especially after the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, there has been a growing cooperation between Scouts in many countries allowing the light to travel throughout 30 European nations.
For more than 1,000 years, oil lamps have continuously burned at the grotto at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Each year, safety permitting, a child from Upper Austria travels as a pilgrim to obtain the flame. During the Third Week of Advent, a Service of Dedication is held in Vienna, Austria to share the Light with Scouting delegations from across Europe. Scouts return to their own countries and with a message of peace, share the Light with churches, hospitals, retirement homes, and places of public, cultural and political importance - to anyone who appreciates the significance of the gift.
"The Light of Friendship & Peace" was first introduced to the United States in 2000. It was flown from Oslo with a brief stopover in London before landing in Bartlesville, OK at the headquarters of Phillips Petroleum Co., the sponsors of the flight. The Peace Light quickly spread to six states in America's heartland.
Following the tragic events of 9/11, Austrian and United Kingdom Peace Light organizers privately brought the Light to Phillips Petroleum in Maine. Met by Boy and Girl Scouts, the Light was taken to New York City where it was delivered to mortuary workers at "Ground Zero" with a message of peace and hope. Soon after, an Austrian Delegation also delivered the Peace Light to New York City where it was formally presented to the Rector of Saint Patrick's Cathedral as a gift and message of love for all in the United States.
Today, in cooperation with Austrian Scouts and Austrian Airlines, the Peace Light makes its long journey from Bethlehem to Tel Aviv to Vienna and finally safely across the Atlantic Ocean to New York City where the Catholic Committee on Scouting of the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens welcomes the Light to the United States. From there the Peace Light is shared by hundreds of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and others throughout North America.
The Covid-19 pandemic of 2020-2021 necessitated new and innovative ways of sharing the Peace Light and its message. Because of health and safety restrictions designed to reduce the spread of the virus, few live interactions were possible.
For the first time ever, the 2020 Austrian Peace Light ceremony was delivered virtually. A very small gathering was held in Salzburg, with international delegations invited to submit a short video message to be included in the ceremony. During the ceremony a candle was lit from the Peace Light for every nation taking part. The 2021 Austrian ceremony was held in the same manner. Peace Light North America was honored to participate both years.
Sadly, the 2020 Peace Light could not be transferred to the United States. Our network of Keepers of the Light -- enthusiasts who maintain the flame year-round -- rose to the occasion by sharing the Peace Light from previous years to the extent possible. Peace Light North America also hosted a virtual ceremony which included video clips submitted from across the country. The Virtual Ceremonies are linked below.