“Peace is a personal choice,” Irish peace leader Betty Williams told hundreds of Costa Rican children and youth gathered Saturday to hear her speak in San José de la Montaña, a mountain town above Heredia, north of San José. “I deeply believe that if you’re not helping to make the world better, you’re part of the problem.”
She spoke after walking through the streets of the small town under a bright sun hugging and kissing dozens of small children who had gathered from more than two dozen schools around the country to greet her with white balloons and handkerchiefs.
Williams, who received the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work to foster understanding between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, was in Costa Rica to attend Monday’s inauguration ceremony of fellow Nobel laureate Oscar Arias.
Her appearance in San José de la Montaña for the “Youth Forging Peace” conference was sponsored by the U.S.-based group Peace Jam, the Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress and Costa Rica’s Ministry of Justice.
Williams urged those in the audience to “reject bombs, bullets and all techniques of violence,” and added that hunger is a form of violence.
“Forty thousand children die every day in conditions of malnutrition – that’s not even mentioning AIDS or other illnesses,” she said. “Everyone in this room has a responsibility to love your brothers and sisters around the world and to try to help them.”
After her short speech, during which she criticized U.S. President George W. Bush and U.S. actions in Iraq, Williams spent approximately an hour answering questions through an interpreter.
Asked what Costa Rica’s Girl and Boy Scouts could do to help bring peace to the world, the 63-year-old grandmother said, “a million possibilities exist.
“For example, you could work with Amnesty International to write letters to the prisoners of Guantánamo Bay,” she said. Asked how she transforms her personal outrage and anger into peace, she said it requires a conscious decision every day.
“I suffer from lots of anger,” she explained, adding that her friend and fellow Nobel laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, says he prays for Bush every day. “And I pray that God will take him home,” she said of the U.S. leader – eliciting peals of laughter from the audience.
On a more serious note, the activist reminded her audience that the only way to change anything is through justice, nonviolence and personal passion.
“You must do everything with great passion,” she concluded.