This crusade is different from the Children's Crusade to Death Row in 1997, a three-day anti-death-penalty march from Farmington to Waynesburg's State Correctional Institution at Greene, which holds many of Pennsylvania's death row inmates.
Instead, this is a festival in which children from various cultures around the world are meeting together to form friendships and play. "You can't compare them. This is children-centered," said Scott Button, a 14-year-old Bruderhof youth who helped organize this and the 1997 crusade. "We are looking at world problems rather than just one issue."
Johann Christoph Arnold, spiritual leader for the Bruderhof, a pacifist Christian society that has communities in Pennsylvania, New York, and Australia, said, "The point is to make friendships with children in other countries that will last a lifetime. Children unite us all, and the values that separate us as adults disappear. So let's start with the children. If you save one child, you save the world."
Aided by their families, the Bruderhof children worked for a year on this crusade, which started Friday and finishes today with an anti-death penalty rally at SCI-Greene. Members noted, however, that participation in the rally is voluntary, and families are being encouraged not to send small children.
To prepare for the festival, the children and their families cleared the woods behind their buildings to establish trails and campsites in what is being called the Peace Park. They studied various cultures and decorated the park with sculptures and poems, and built structures such as an Eastern Woodlands Indian long house, a Western Indians teepee, and a Tibetan yurt. To give the feeling of climbing into the Himalayas, the Bruderhof children constructed a suspension bridge to reach the yurt. "We made all these knots--2,000 knots were tied by hand," said Alex Horning, also 14, of the Bruderhof, noting the 2,000 knots were in honor of the 2000 crusade.
The children then began inviting children from around the world to participate. The crusade is by invitation only, to make certain there is enough room to accommodate the guests. Three hundred children representing 42 nations accepted invitations and are staying with families at both New Meadow Run and Spring Valley Bruderhofs while some guests and Bruderhof members from other communities are camping on the grounds.
Maykel Perez, 18, who came here with a group of 22 youths from Havana, Cuba, who are Baptist and Presbyterian, said about strained relations between the United States and Cuba, "It's basically a government problem. It's not really a question of problems between the people." Speaking through a translator, Perez said, "This weekend will be a way to show a person is a person. It doesn't matter where you come from." Yasel Constante Orman, 18, and Jorge Felix Abreu Castillo, 12, who also speak through a translator, agree. Castillo said, "We see that people can build relationships." Orman said, "We're just all people--human beings. We have to work together to make a better world."
The children, who plan to keep in touch with each other after the crusade through letters and a magazine, are hopeful this is a step toward world peace. "When our generation is in charge, there'll be more people wanting peace. We're hoping the adults take this as an example. If the children can live in peace, then the adults can, too," Button said.