|By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, October 01, 2003 - 7:01 am: Edit Post|
Philippines RPCVs Bert and Alice Fitzgerald
Philippines RPCVs Bert and Alice Fitzgerald
Quest for Peace Couple find comfort in Dalai Lama’s message
By: Laura Connell
Courier Staff Writer
Bert and Alice Fitzgerald
After two years of serving in the Peace Corps in the Philippines, Bert Fitzgerald had the unique opportunity to see one of the world’s foremost spiritual leaders. As one of about 100 people gathered in Dharamsala, India, Fitzgerald not only heard the Dalai Lama speak but also received a Tibetan Prayer Shawl that had been blessed by him.
Nearly 20 years later, Fitzgerald, a Madison resident, joined his wife, Alice, and their German foreign exchange student, Anna Lena Hoerster, in witnessing the first-time meeting between the Dalai Lama and another messenger of peace, Muhammad Ali.
At the dedication of a new interfaith temple just outside of Bloomington earlier this month, the Dalai Lama delivered a message of peace, love and compassion to more than 3,000 people, including Hoerster and the Fitzgeralds. Ali did not give a speech, but his aide said Ali was honored to meet the Dalai Lama.
“I was thrilled about the opportunity to see both of them.” Alice Fitzgerald said. She was especially impressed with the Dalai Lama, whom she said, “just exudes love and humanity. He has a very dynamic, a very charismatic presence.”
Hoerster agreed, adding, “He laughed all the time, and when he laughed, everyone laughed.”
In recounting the Dalai Lama’s speech, Alice said, “He stressed that we need to take long-term steps to prevent something like [the war in Iraq] from happening again.” Such steps include practicing tolerance, flexibility, compassion and love. These values resonated with the Fitzgeralds, who have focused their lives on fighting for human rights and working for peace.
Bert is a psychiatric social worker at Madison State Hospital, and Alice is a therapist at Quinco. However, it’s their efforts outside of the workplace that reveal their passions. Whether it’s working with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, meeting with the Columbus Peace Fellowship, visiting and corresponding with death row inmates or asking Chinese ambassadors to release prisoners, the Fitzgeralds are actively working for peace both locally and worldwide.
Alice explained that these values went hand in hand with Buddhist beliefs. “I’ve been very interested in Buddhism,” she said. “Its emphasis on compassion and love are very appealing to me.”
Alice is also interested in the power of interfaith relationships, which she said the ceremony demonstrated. “My whole interest in this was the emphasis on interfaith belief,” she said. “I believe these religions have so much in common.”
One of the highlights of the event, according to the couple, was the speeches given by leaders from 16 religions and denominations. The short presentations reflected the value the day gave to interfaith relationships. Bert added that the unity of those gathered was exemplified in the young Tibetan and American girls running around together, oblivious to their differences. “They couldn’t have been more than five,” he said. “And they were laughing and giggling and not paying attention to anything else.”
Hoerster said she was also impressed with two women in the audience. According to Hoerster, these women wore traditional Tibetan clothing and cried when the Dalai Lama took the stage. While others clapped for him, they kept their hands together as if in prayer. Hoerster said she later noticed one of the women sketching a portrait of the spiritual leader since photography was not allowed.
Hoerster said there is one lesson in particular that she carried away with her after the ceremony. “One woman that stays in my mind, she said peace begins with a smile,” she said, smiling.
Alice and Bert said the ceremony was very encouraging to them and reminded them too of a valuable lesson. “It didn’t really give me any new ideas, but it gave me the little push I needed to put those ideas into action,” Bert said. “It reminded me to live each day more peacefully and not get caught up in the hectic things of life.
“I think being an activist in the community and being an advocate for a better community is what’s really important,” he added. “You need to make a difference where you are. To do that, you have to be involved with people. The Internet is great, but sometimes you need to turn it off and go out and be with people. Make Jefferson County a better place.”