Runners from around the world carrying a symbolic torch to promote world peace visited two Philadelphia schools Monday as a part of four-month, 10,000-mile trek across North America.
The runners, a relay team undertaking the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run, had with them a torch that has traveled the world with a message of peace.
On Monday, they jogged into McCall Elementary's auditorium to talk with sixth, seventh, and eighth graders about peace and screen a movie showing their years of travel.
The highlight came when the team took the students on a run around the schoolyard and gave them a chance to hold one of the torches that Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and other world leaders have held over the years in their pleas for peace. Organizers told them to close their eyes and make a wish or say a prayer for peace while holding it.
"I thought it was awesome, because all the people who held the torch, the pope and everybody else," sixth grader Amar Dhanjal said.
"I thought it was really inspiring," added eighth grader Omar Charles. "We don't really have groups like that come to the school."
Some of the relay runners, who had come from as far away as New Zealand and Ukraine, visited Christ Church before making their way to McCall. For some runners, it was the trip of a lifetime.
Luana Koch, 26, lives in Hamburg, Germany, and had never before visited the United States. She said she signed up because it gave her the opportunity to travel - Philadelphia is "really special," she said - and promote a good cause.
"You don't have to be a professional runner," Koch said. "It's a nice way to be with nature."
The Peace Run was established in 1987 by Sri Chinmoy, an Indian spiritual leader, and has been held in more than 140 countries. Chinmoy, who died in 2007, taught meditation to United Nations officials in New York and spoke about the spiritual benefits of athletics.
"Peace is not going to happen if we're all standing still," said Harita Davies, a runner from New Zealand. "Running is really symbolic of moving, of doing something."
Deva Shishu, who participated in the first Peace Run, told students that peace has to start at the local level.
"To have a good school and to have a good community, you need peace," he said.
The students said the presentation was not like other assemblies.
"Some people who come here, they'll sit and talk," eighth grader Lexa-Renae Horsey-Williams said. "It was interesting to see people running around."
"I thought it was very cool because they have people from all over the world," sixth grader Andre Charpentier added.
The 2016 North American run started Sunday in New York. Runners also stopped at Girard College on Monday; on Tuesday, they are scheduled to be in Wilmington.