fr Domenique Pire

Dominique Pire and the ‘Islands of Peace’

Fr Prakash Anthony Lohale op had the opportunity to interview Guido Van Damme on his biography of Fr Pire op,  Nobel Peace Prize. Fr Prakash is the immediate past Socius for Apostolic Life, who served from 2008 to 2014. He is from the Province of India. In honour of his predecessor, Fr Chrys, he coedited a book titled The Dominican Family in Dialogue as Mission: Remembering Chrys McVey, OP, a memorial collection of some of the insightful and challenging thoughts of fr Chrys McVey.


This interview took place in Rome, September 2008. The occasion was the publication of a biography of Father Dominique Pire OP by Guido van Damme.

Prakash: First of all, could you say something about yourself?

Guido: I worked as a journalist for 45 years in Belgium and I am also a writer. Although I have known the Dominicans since I was a boy, I joined the Dominican Order as a professed lay Dominican in 2004. I was elected in November of last year on the Council of Lay Dominican Fraternities for the French-speaking South Belgium Vicariate, where I am in charge of formation.

Prakash: How long have you known Father Pire?

Guido: Father Pire was twenty years older than me. I met him at the end of my secondary school education, just after the war. I was with him the night when he attended a conference in Brussels by an American officer just back from Germany, who described the situation in refugee camps. ‘Boy’, he said to me, ‘don’t forget this, I’ll make this the great adventure of my life’. He did, and it was the start of the work that led him to be awarded the Peace Nobel Prize some ten years later. When I worked as a journalist in Antwerp, I also accompanied him for a couple of years to Germany to visit refugee camps and report on his work. And I always kept in touch after that. All in all, I knew him for the last twenty years of his life. He died young, at the age of 59.

Prakash: Was it while he worked with refugees that he had the idea of establishing European villages of peace?

Guido: Yes, at first, he set up sponsorships between refugees and local people from his home town of Huy, but he soon realized it was very difficult to implement. There were too many people in need, speaking too many different languages. So he said: ‘I must try another way’. Then he brought these refugees over from Germany to live in villages, which he had set up. He created five villages altogether. Afterwards, he built the Islands of Peace, to help people who had nothing in developing countries. The idea was, ‘If I give you a fish, you will eat tonight; but if I teach you how to fish, you will eat for life.’ At the time, it was a novel idea. The first Island of Peace was in Gohira, in Bangladesh. A journalist once asked him: ‘How do you manage to do it all — your camps, your villages, your islands of peace?’ He replied: ‘I carry them all every morning in my prayer.’ Father Pire was an action man but also a highly spiritual man.

Prakash: What inspired you about him?

Guido: What I loved about him was his fragility and at the same time his strength, the depth of his faith. He was always afraid of doing something wrong, but at the same time he had total confidence in God and the Virgin Mary, he gave his projects a 100% and that’s how he got results. He was no superman, but he taught me that you don’t have to be exceptional to do great things, you must just get started and put total trust in God and then you can do exceptional things.

Prakash: What inspired you to write a book about his life?

Guido: During my formation as a lay Dominican, I wrote a ten-page paper on Father Pire and this was put on the Dominican University Domuni website. Then at the beginning of this year, a Japanese nun, who belonged to the Order of Poor Clares, wrote to a Jesuit publisher in Belgium, asking him whether he planned to publish a book on Father Pire on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of his receiving the Peace Nobel Prize. Keïko did her religious studies in Belgium and when she took the veil at the age of 18, it was Father Pire who said Mass and preached. Keïko attached the text of Father Pire’s homily, which she had kept for all those years. The Jesuit publisher found my paper on the Internet and contacted me at the end of January, saying: ‘We want a book in the same vein as what you have already written’. Father Pire’s homily is now included in the book.

Prakash: Did the Dominicans encourage you when you were writing the book?

Guido: Well, the publisher organized lots of contacts with people who knew him and worked for him. I already knew some of these people, especially in his home town of Huy, where several of them became lay Dominicans. I had access to Father Pire’s archives and other documents provided by the group of ladies who worked with him in Huy.

Prakash: If I am right, Father Pire was awarded the Peace Nobel Prize for the work he did after World War II for refugees. And it’s only after receiving the Prize that he started his University of Peace and his project of Islands of Peace. Was the idea of setting up a University of Peace and Islands of Peace already in his mind before he was awarded the Nobel Prize?

Guido: No, I don’t think so. It was after he received the Peace Nobel Prize that he met a lot of people in high places: the United Nations Secretary U Thant, the famous physicist Professor Oppenheimer, Doctor Albert Schweitzer in Africa, and so on, and the idea of peace completely mobilized him. It was also when setting up his University of Peace that he established an in-depth dialogue with freemasons. One of them, a university professor, Raymond Vander Elst, collaborated with him at the University of Peace in Huy. In this respect, Father Pire was a man of the third millennium, a prophet. He supported the Second Vatican Council but thought the Church could go even further in the field of dialogue.

Prakash: I would like to go back to the Islands of Peace, which is a project I find particularly interesting. On what principles were they built? Do they still exist?

Guido: The idea was to give temporary aid, usually for about five years, to an underprivileged village, like Kalakad in India, to get people to organize themselves as a development cooperative, create structures for development – analyzing the local market, teaching and implementing modern agricultural practices, etc. A Belgian or French expert came to work with local people and helped them to help themselves. In this respect, Father Pire was ahead of his time.

Nowadays, the Islands of Peace association, working with some 500 voluntary workers, still exists in Belgium and runs projects in places like Ecuador, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Bolivia and Peru. When Father Pire was awarded the Peace Nobel Prize, he became acutely aware of the problems and poverty in third world countries and decided to take action. Indira Gandhi, for example, advised him on what he could do to help.

Prakash: Was Father Pire only focused on economic aspects?

Guido: Yes, totally. He never tried to make anyone a Christian. When he was working with refugees, a Dominican friar asked him: ‘How many people did you convert?’ ‘None’. ‘But then, what’s the point?’ At the time, this type of reaction was common, but Father Pire was different. Nowadays, all those involved in development aid work on the same principles as him.

Prakash: For us, young Dominicans, how can we translate the idea of the Islands of Peace in today’s context?

Guido: Well, his method is important. He heard of a need, for example the refugees stuck in camps after the war, and he spent hours trying to find out exactly how they lived and what they wanted, analyzing the actual situation, then he devised a plan and took action.

Prakash: What do you think his message would be to the Dominican Family today?

Guido: I think his message for us would be to realize that the world is like a big village – again a very contemporary idea – and be aware of people’s suffering. If you see your brothers suffering in Indonesia, for example, you mustn’t close your eyes and your ears, you must take action, live in solidarity, build something together.

Prakash: What can you say to encourage people to read your book?

Guido: Well, my work was to assemble existing information, so the book is focused on testimonies, letters, documents and quotations from Father Pire. I hope the book can be translated into other languages, especially English and Spanish, so that his work can be better known. I thank the Lord to have known him and I hope lots of people will be inspired by his life.

Prakash: Thank you.

Guido van Damme, Le Père Pire, Prix Nobel de la Paix, 1958, Ed. Fidélité & Racine, Belgium, September 2008, €19.95.

The book, available only in French, may be bought from Amazon

Dominique Pire and the ‘Islands of Peace’http://www.fraternitiesop.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/fr-Domenique-Pire.jpghttp://www.fraternitiesop.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/fr-Domenique-Pire-150x150.jpgadminEnglishHistorySlider,,
Fr Prakash Anthony Lohale op had the opportunity to interview Guido Van Damme on his biography of Fr Pire op,  Nobel Peace Prize. Fr Prakash is the immediate past Socius for Apostolic Life, who served from 2008 to 2014. He is from the Province of India. In honour of his...
Fr Prakash Anthony Lohale op had the opportunity to interview Guido Van Damme on his biography of Fr Pire op,  Nobel Peace Prize. Fr Prakash is the immediate past Socius for Apostolic Life, who served from 2008 to 2014. He is from the Province of India. In honour of his predecessor, Fr Chrys, he coedited a book titled <em>The Dominican Family in Dialogue as Mission: Remembering Chrys McVey, OP</em>, a memorial collection of some of the insightful and challenging thoughts of fr Chrys McVey. <hr /> <em>This interview took place in Rome, September 2008. The occasion was the publication of a biography of Father Dominique Pire OP by Guido van Damme.</em> <em><strong>Prakash</strong>: First of all, could you say something about yourself?</em> <strong>Guido</strong>: I worked as a journalist for 45 years in Belgium and I am also a writer. Although I have known the Dominicans since I was a boy, I joined the Dominican Order as a professed lay Dominican in 2004. I was elected in November of last year on the Council of Lay Dominican Fraternities for the French-speaking South Belgium Vicariate, where I am in charge of formation. <em><strong>Prakash</strong>: How long have you known Father Pire?</em> <strong>Guido</strong>: Father Pire was twenty years older than me. I met him at the end of my secondary school education, just after the war. I was with him the night when he attended a conference in Brussels by an American officer just back from Germany, who described the situation in refugee camps. ‘Boy’, he said to me, ‘don’t forget this, I’ll make this the great adventure of my life’. He did, and it was the start of the work that led him to be awarded the Peace Nobel Prize some ten years later. When I worked as a journalist in Antwerp, I also accompanied him for a couple of years to Germany to visit refugee camps and report on his work. And I always kept in touch after that. All in all, I knew him for the last twenty years of his life. He died young, at the age of 59. <em><strong>Prakash</strong>: Was it while he worked with refugees that he had the idea of establishing European villages of peace?</em> <strong>Guido</strong>: Yes, at first, he set up sponsorships between refugees and local people from his home town of Huy, but he soon realized it was very difficult to implement. There were too many people in need, speaking too many different languages. So he said: ‘I must try another way’. Then he brought these refugees over from Germany to live in villages, which he had set up. He created five villages altogether. Afterwards, he built the Islands of Peace, to help people who had nothing in developing countries. The idea was, ‘If I give you a fish, you will eat tonight; but if I teach you how to fish, you will eat for life.’ At the time, it was a novel idea. The first Island of Peace was in Gohira, in Bangladesh. A journalist once asked him: ‘How do you manage to do it all — your camps, your villages, your islands of peace?’ He replied: ‘I carry them all every morning in my prayer.’ Father Pire was an action man but also a highly spiritual man. <em><strong>Prakash</strong>: What inspired you about him?</em> <strong>Guido</strong>: What I loved about him was his fragility and at the same time his strength, the depth of his faith. He was always afraid of doing something wrong, but at the same time he had total confidence in God and the Virgin Mary, he gave his projects a 100% and that’s how he got results. He was no superman, but he taught me that you don’t have to be exceptional to do great things, you must just get started and put total trust in God and then you can do exceptional things. <em><strong>Prakash</strong>: What inspired you to write a book about his life?</em> <strong>Guido</strong>: During my formation as a lay Dominican, I wrote a ten-page paper on Father Pire and this was put on the Dominican University Domuni website. Then at the beginning of this year, a Japanese nun, who belonged to the Order of Poor Clares, wrote to a Jesuit publisher in Belgium, asking him whether he planned to publish a book on Father Pire on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of his receiving the Peace Nobel Prize. Keïko did her religious studies in Belgium and when she took the veil at the age of 18, it was Father Pire who said Mass and preached. Keïko attached the text of Father Pire’s homily, which she had kept for all those years. The Jesuit publisher found my paper on the Internet and contacted me at the end of January, saying: ‘We want a book in the same vein as what you have already written’. Father Pire’s homily is now included in the book. <em><strong>Prakash</strong>: Did the Dominicans encourage you when you were writing the book?</em> <strong>Guido</strong>: Well, the publisher organized lots of contacts with people who knew him and worked for him. I already knew some of these people, especially in his home town of Huy, where several of them became lay Dominicans. I had access to Father Pire’s archives and other documents provided by the group of ladies who worked with him in Huy. <em><strong>Prakash</strong>: If I am right, Father Pire was awarded the Peace Nobel Prize for the work he did after World War II for refugees. And it’s only after receiving the Prize that he started his University of Peace and his project of Islands of Peace. Was the idea of setting up a University of Peace and Islands of Peace already in his mind before he was awarded the Nobel Prize?</em> <strong>Guido</strong>: No, I don’t think so. It was after he received the Peace Nobel Prize that he met a lot of people in high places: the United Nations Secretary U Thant, the famous physicist Professor Oppenheimer, Doctor Albert Schweitzer in Africa, and so on, and the idea of peace completely mobilized him. It was also when setting up his University of Peace that he established an in-depth dialogue with freemasons. One of them, a university professor, Raymond Vander Elst, collaborated with him at the University of Peace in Huy. In this respect, Father Pire was a man of the third millennium, a prophet. He supported the Second Vatican Council but thought the Church could go even further in the field of dialogue. <em><strong>Prakash</strong>: I would like to go back to the Islands of Peace, which is a project I find particularly interesting. On what principles were they built? Do they still exist?</em> <strong>Guido</strong>: The idea was to give temporary aid, usually for about five years, to an underprivileged village, like Kalakad in India, to get people to organize themselves as a development cooperative, create structures for development – analyzing the local market, teaching and implementing modern agricultural practices, etc. A Belgian or French expert came to work with local people and helped them to help themselves. In this respect, Father Pire was ahead of his time. Nowadays, the Islands of Peace association, working with some 500 voluntary workers, still exists in Belgium and runs projects in places like Ecuador, Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Bolivia and Peru. When Father Pire was awarded the Peace Nobel Prize, he became acutely aware of the problems and poverty in third world countries and decided to take action. Indira Gandhi, for example, advised him on what he could do to help. <em><strong>Prakash</strong>: Was Father Pire only focused on economic aspects?</em> <strong>Guido</strong>: Yes, totally. He never tried to make anyone a Christian. When he was working with refugees, a Dominican friar asked him: ‘How many people did you convert?’ ‘None’. ‘But then, what’s the point?’ At the time, this type of reaction was common, but Father Pire was different. Nowadays, all those involved in development aid work on the same principles as him. <em><strong>Prakash</strong>: For us, young Dominicans, how can we translate the idea of the Islands of Peace in today’s context?</em> <strong>Guido</strong>: Well, his method is important. He heard of a need, for example the refugees stuck in camps after the war, and he spent hours trying to find out exactly how they lived and what they wanted, analyzing the actual situation, then he devised a plan and took action. <em><strong>Prakash</strong>: What do you think his message would be to the Dominican Family today?</em> <strong>Guido</strong>: I think his message for us would be to realize that the world is like a big village – again a very contemporary idea – and be aware of people’s suffering. If you see your brothers suffering in Indonesia, for example, you mustn’t close your eyes and your ears, you must take action, live in solidarity, build something together. <em><strong>Prakash</strong>: What can you say to encourage people to read your book?</em> <strong>Guido</strong>: Well, my work was to assemble existing information, so the book is focused on testimonies, letters, documents and quotations from Father Pire. I hope the book can be translated into other languages, especially English and Spanish, so that his work can be better known. I thank the Lord to have known him and I hope lots of people will be inspired by his life. <em><strong>Prakash</strong>: Thank you.</em> Guido van Damme, <em>Le Père Pire, Prix Nobel de la Paix</em>, 1958, Ed. Fidélité & Racine, Belgium, September 2008, €19.95. The book, available only in French, <a href="https://goo.gl/GG5eyq" target="_blank">may be bought from Amazon</a>

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1 thought on “Dominique Pire and the ‘Islands of Peace’”

  1. Thank you for being so kind as to print this interview by Prakash that so many of us know throughout the Dominican world. I became aware of the story when looking at a copy in Guido & Benedicte’s home. I was so disappointed that it was only in French. I was also so in awe of Guido’s humility when I pointed to all the other books on his shelves that were also written by Guido. How I thank God for the blessing of both Guido and Benedicte to put out their hand of welcome to a stranger coming from all those thousands of miles away in Australia.

    Public CommentUserThank you for being so kind as to print this interview by Prakash that so many of us know throughout the Dominican world. I became aware of the story when looking at a copy in Guido & Benedicte's home. I was so disappointed that it was only in French. I was also so in awe of Guido's humility when I pointed to all the other books on his shelves that were also written by Guido. How I thank God for the blessing of both Guido and Benedicte to put out their hand of welcome to a stranger coming from all those thousands of miles away in Australia.

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