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Instrument of peace

New Lenox woman to follow in saint's footsteps

LIZ WILKINSON ALLEN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Cori Nielsen of New Lenox stands out on the Old Plank Road Trail near her home, where she's been walking to get in shape for September, when she travels to Italy to walk 111 miles from Assisi to Rome with others from a multi-faith group called The Beloved Community.


In September, New Lenox resident Cori Nielsen will be making a spiritual pilgrimage to Italy, where she will follow the footsteps of 11th century friar and peace devotee St. Francis of Assisi on an international Peace Walk.

"I'm following my heart," Nielsen said. "I feel the need to be there. It's a personal challenge for me — I don't even know why, but it's something I need to do."

Nielsen, 50, was recently ordained in The Beloved Community, an international spiritual group seeking world compassion and peace. Over the years, Nielsen says she's always been pulled by conscious or subconscious goals of helping people understand each other. Raised Methodist, she remembers her father imparting messages of compassion to her, such as telling his daughter not to judge a person "until you've walked a mile in that person's moccasins."

Nielsen has felt a strong affinity for the peacemaker and nature-lover St. Francis of Assisi ever since seeing the Franco Zeffirelli movie "Brother Sun, Sister Moon," the story of the early years of St. Francis' life.

She spent a year in Argentina in 1977 as an exchange student and now teaches Spanish at Joliet Junior College and is an interpreter and translator for Bautz Developmental Intervention, an early intervention program in Orland Park.

Message of peace

A few years ago, a friend sent Nielsen a link to The Beloved Community's Web site. Its message of peace and compassion stirred her and she began studying the group's philosophy in Internet classes.

The Beloved Community is an international community whose goal is to help people around the world experience inner peace and then to extend that peace throughout the world with pilgrimages and peace vigils.

It was founded by musician James Twyman, who describes himself as a "peace troubadour." Twyman began the movement in 1995, after an experience he had in the mountains of Croatia with a young woman named Maria, whom he later came to believe was the physical manifestation of the Mother Mary.

His book of the experience, "Emissary of Light," inspired many to seek out his method of achieving inner peace and joining with others in peace prayer vigils to influence events of world crisis.

Divine purpose

During his travels in Bulgaria, Twyman came upon some children he now calls, "the four psychic children," whom he says are able to communicate messages of peace to other children in the world who are psychically open. Twyman organizes conferences for them in hopes they can help heal world problems and contribute toward world peace.

Nielsen said her experiences with the movement have enabled her to more clearly see God's purpose for her.

"I have grown very much inside," she said, "more peaceful. I'm more open to God working in my life. I was finally able to get the ego-me out of the way and to open myself to serving in the world as the Creator would have me serve."

Nielsen said The Beloved Community is not a church, but an organized multi-faith community that studies the teachings of Jesus Christ, Buddha, Mohammed and other religious leaders and faiths, such as those of Native Americans, Sikh, Baha'i, Native Africans and others.

"We're not a horse and buggy community anymore," she said. "We are becoming a global society, and we need to find that unity among us. Different faiths and skin colors aren't what's important. We're all human beings first. We all love and we all care for our children. We all cry and we all hurt.

"The underlying heart in what I do is to break down walls," she added. "The first goal is to achieve inner peace. Then, by being peace, we can affect peace in our communities and throughout the world."

Holy journey

Nielsen will be joining movement founder Twyman and about 100 other followers on Sept. 13 for a 10-day pilgrimage from Assisi, Italy to Vatican City, following the journey made by St. Francis 785 years ago.

At the end of his journey, St. Francis was granted an audience with the pope, who was so moved by the sight and plea of the humble friar that he sanctioned St. Francis' community and granted him protection from Assisi's local bishop, who was persecuting him and his followers.

Twyman is seeking an audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the conclusion of his group's pilgrimage for the purpose of encouraging the new leader to dedicate his life to peace and compassion for all beings.

Nielsen and the group plan to walk from 10-18 miles a day on the 110-mile pilgrimage, carrying with them a mile-long quilt of peace messages.

She's been walking as often as possible on the nearby Old Plank Road Trail to get in shape for the Peace Walk. There will be a bus available for those on the long walk, but Nielsen hopes to be able to use her own leg-power on the journey, in spite of some knee problems she has from an auto accident injury.

"It's my intent to walk every step I can," she said.

The pilgrimage will be expensive, though, and to raise money, Nielsen and friends are organizing a fund-raising Candlelight Peace Bowl at Country Lanes in New Lenox on Aug. 5, at 7:30 p.m. Those wanting information about the fund-raiser can call (815) 485-0729 or visit instrumentsofpeace.tripod.com.

Nielsen said those wanting to mail monetary donations for the Peace Walk can do so to: Cori Nielsen, 210 E. Woodlawn Road, New Lenox, IL 60451.

Nielsen is also collecting beads to string into a peace necklace that she and other followers will wear on the pilgrimage. Anyone who sends her a bead will receive another one in return that was worn on the walk.

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