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Public Eye



This upcoming Sunday morning, as on countless others week in, week out, families all over Colorado Springs will head off to church.

Those who attend one of the city's many houses of worship downtown, in particular, may want to keep an ear out for a group of people who will be walking by with torch in hand, praying for peace. Perhaps the pastors will even encourage their flocks to spill out onto the sidewalks and join the marchers in interfaith solidarity.

After all, when it comes to flames burning through town, Colorado Springs residents have a proven track record for laying out the welcome mat. Heck, it was just a few weeks back when another torch symbolizing global unity came through. Traffic was so clogged that the city practically stood at a standstill while thousands misted up watching the likes of James Dobson and Bill Hybl trotting down the street in their Olympic jogging outfits.

This weekend another group of internationals will be coming through Colorado Springs, and the story behind the 52-year-old flame they carry is poignant.

In 1945, a month after the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, a man named Tatsuo Yamamoto was sifting through the ashes of a bookstore and found live embers still burning amid the devastation. Filled with hostility, he collected them and returned home where his grandmother kindled a flame from those embers of destruction and kept it alive to illuminate the family's Buddhist alter for the next 12 years.

As legend has it, though Mr. Yamamoto initially identified the flame as one that symbolized his anger, his grandmother steadfastly interpreted it as representative of love -- and of the memory of her son who had perished in war. Mr. Yamamoto came to view the flame as a symbol of love as well. The fire ultimately grew to represent world peace for countless others. Many flames were kindled from those original embers and Hiroshima Flames now stand sentry at monuments all across Japan.

In January, the Hiroshima Flame was brought to the United States on a Korean freighter, and it has become a guiding light for a five-month transcontinental spiritual pilgrimage for peace and nuclear disarmament.

"We have people from all over the world -- Americans, Europeans, Japanese -- everyone's walking for prayer," said Tom Dostau, a member of the Abenaki Nation and initiator of the North American walk. "We're not attacking anyone or making a political point; we're praying for the people who have the power to decide life and death on the planet today at the touch of a button to think about these things."

The core group comprises only about 30, which include Japanese Buddhist priests, Native Americans, Peaceniks and, yes, several former GIs. Their final destination is the United Nations headquarters in New York City, but on the way they will stop in Arizona at the source for the plutonium used to build The Bomb. There, they will build a fire, extinguish the old flame and light a new one, in peace.

Fueled in part by an enchanted mainstream and alternative press, the colorful party has been joined by supporters for long stretches along the way. In Tacoma, Wash. on Jan. 15, 10,000 people gathered to both remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and honor the Hiroshima Flame. In other towns and cities, 50, 80, 150 people have walked in solidarity for miles.

The group has also encountered rare hostility, even violence. In Eugene, Ore., startled by a warning gunshot blasting overhead, they looked up to see a big Rebel flag hanging from a tree. Outside Las Vegas, a Greyhound driver wearing a patriotic lapel pin nearly threw them off his bus, screaming obscenities at the Japanese and warning Native Americans not to remove their shoes during the long ride to Denver.

It's hard to say how this fast-growing military-religious industrial complex of Colorado Springs will respond to the international pilgrimage.

On Sunday morning, the carriers of the Hiroshima Flame will wake up inside Shove Chapel at Colorado College. They will weave their way past the city's cornerstone churches.

Then they will trek eight miles east along Platte Avenue to Peterson Air Force Base, the nerve center of this country's Space Command, where the United States is currently on the fast track to revive an unproven but expensive missile defense system called Star Wars.

Let's hope they get the attention, and the support, they deserve.

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