Service of Lit Candles

May 28th, 2013

Categories: Candles, Hope, Music

One candle

Disasters, disease, misfortune, war, rampant selfishness and news of criminals in all industries are enough to turn the most passionate optimist into a cynic. It’s easy to get stuck in negativity and hopelessness. Fortunately there are talented, inspired people who tirelessly buck the deluge. Organizations such as The Christophers and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra are two.

64th Annual Christopher AwardsI’ve written several times about The Christophers–I help promote its annual awards about this time of year. If at 5 a.m. you’re tuned to 710 WOR AM radio in NYC you hear Tony Rossi, the organization’s director of communications, share the Christopher Minute he writes. In addition to these segments, that also play around the country, and the awards, the charity’s publishing and leadership programs are inspired by the ancient Chinese proverb—“It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

This year 19 feature films, TV/Cable programs, and books for adults and young people won Christopher Awards. “The creative forces behind the projects we’re honoring are improving our culture by telling stories that awaken hope instead of despair, acknowledge the necessity of sacrifice in the service of a greater good,” said Rossi.


From the left are: Arthur Fleischmann, “Carly’s Voice,” Mary Ellen Robinson, vice president/COO, The Christophers, Colleen Carroll Campbell, “My Sisters the Saints,” and Nicole Lataif, “Forever You: A Book About Your Soul and Body.” Photo Credit: Paul Schneck.

From the left are: Arthur Fleischmann, “Carly’s Voice,” Mary Ellen Robinson, vice president/COO, The Christophers, Colleen Carroll Campbell, “My Sisters the Saints,” and Nicole Lataif, “Forever You: A Book About Your Soul and Body.” Photo Credit: Paul Schneck.

The books for children tackled sophisticated, tough, grownup subjects. In “Forever You: A Book About Your Soul and Body,”  (Pauline Books and Media), Nicole Lataif tells children as young as pre Kindergarten what it means to be fully human and about building character. Jo S. Kittinger describes the loss and shock so many children face when they have to move to unsavory living quarters when their family has lost their home or a parent a job. In “House on Dirty-Third Street,” (Peachtree Publishers), the community helps the child and her mother rebuild. In another book a bullied fifth grader with a facial deformity learns to appreciate the gifts he brings to the world in R.J. Palacio’s “Wonder,” (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House Children’s Books). Palacio called it a “meditation on kindness.”

Three of the books in the adult category address autism, Alzheimer’s and drug abuse. “Carly’s Voice,” (Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster), by Arthur Fleischmann and his autistic daughter Carly reveals their family’s astonishing journey from believing Carly would never develop intellectually beyond the abilities of a small child to her current status as a smart, perceptive and funny high school student. 

Eric Blehm shares the troubled life and heroic death of Navy SEAL Adam Brown, whose early life was derailed by drug abuse before family, faith and the U.S. military gave him the courage and strength to fight his inner demons. His book: “Fearless,” (Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group/Random House).

While dealing with her father’s descent into Alzheimer’s, author/journalist and Catholic television network EWTN broadcaster Colleen Carroll Campbell demonstrates the modern relevance of saints like Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux in her quest to find personal fulfillment and professional success in her spiritual autobiography, “My Sisters the Saints,” (Image Books/Random House). Starting this summer Campbell will be anchor of “EWTN News Nightly with Colleen Carroll Campbell,” the global network’s first-ever daily newscast.

West-Eastern Divan OrchestraThe Christophers celebrate hope in books and film while the Argentinean-born Daniel Barenboim turns to music to shed light on peace. The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra [photo right] that the Jewish conductor and pianist co-founded in 1999 with [the late] Edward Said, a Palestinian scholar, is scheduled for a seven city European tour starting in July.

Wrote Anthony Tomassini of the orchestra originally made up of young musicians from Israel, Palestine and various Arab countries of the Middle East: “The West-Eastern Divan Orchestra takes its name from a book of poetry by Goethe exploring the concept of world culture. In 2002 the orchestra, adopted by the Andalusian government in Spain and a private foundation, set up its summer headquarters in Seville. Since then a number of European players, especially from Spain, have taken part.” 

Continued The New York Times critic: “From the project’s start, Said, who died in 2003, and Mr. Barenboim made no great claims for the transformative potential of the orchestra. But dialogue is a precondition to understanding. And dialogue is unavoidable when young musicians play music and live together.”

Do you believe that light–as small as that shed by one candle or the synergy among musicians in a single orchestra–will overcome darkness? Can you share the names of other organizations in the business of hope?




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12 Responses to “Service of Lit Candles”

  1. ASK Said:

    Brought up a Catholic, I find lighting candles very therapeutic in a hopeful & healing way. Let’s hope there is something to it beyond the symbolism…

  2. Jo S. Kittinger Said:

    Thank you for mentioning my book, THE HOUSE ON DIRTY-THIRD STREET,in this blog. I was thrilled and humbled to receive a Christopher Award and am grateful for all The Christophers do to highlight and encourage books and other media with positive messages.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I am not involved in the selection process but understand that competition is stiff for Christopher Awards which is a good sign. The subjects, far from Pollyanna, are treated respectfully and illustrate the benefits of hope. I like to think of the collective films and books that The Christophers have honored over the years, and those they will recognize in future, each holding one candle and together creating a blinding effect that makes a difference and can’t be ignored.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I read your book and admired how you handled a difficult subject and how well Thomas Gonzalez illustrated “The House on Dirty-Third Street.” Congratulations on the award.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Horrible things happen, and with todays advanced technology, threaten to escalate to a depressing degree. The comfort I find, however, is not in inspirational texts, but from those whose actions offset frightening occurrences. The world is full of these people, take the late Mother Theresa, and Princess Diana, The Dalai Lama, followed by millions of the unsung whose actions save victims lives, help those threatened and/or harmed by natural disasters. Most frightening of all is if the human “angels” die off, and all that is left are the books. We will then be in deep trouble.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What the books and films do, however, is to capture the work of many of the otherwise unsung or little known angels you refer to so that future generations can know about them.

    Without Eric Blehm’s book Fearless, we wouldn’t know about Adam Brown. Long before he became a member of the elite SEAL Team SIX—the counterterrorism unit that took down Osama bin Laden—there was a fun-loving country boy from Arkansas whose greatest goal had been to wear his high school’s football jersey. An undersized daredevil, prone to jumping off roofs into trees and off bridges into lakes, Adam was a kid who broke his own bones but would never break a promise to his parents … until he grew older, and his family watched that appetite for risk draw him into a downward spiral that eventually landed him in jail.

    FEARLESS is the story of a man of extremes, whose determination was fueled by faith, family, and the love of a woman. It’s about a man who waged a war against his own worst impulses and persevered to reach the top tier of the U.S. military. Always the first to volunteer for the most dangerous assignments, Adam’s final act of bravery led to the ultimate sacrifice.

  7. Jeremiah Said:

    To answer your questions:

    Based upon a quarter century of experience working with and traveling in the Middle East–on balance a positive experience when it came to the people I came to know, like and admire–will endeavors such Maestro Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra have much effect on the hopeless deadlock between Arabs and Jews, the answer is, “No.”

    However, I’ve heard the orchestra play, and it plays as one. Hearing it was a moving experience, and even if its mission is doomed to failure, there is a warm glow from its candle, whose flame should be kept lit.

    Along the same lines, Aili and Andres McConnon’s “Road To Valor,” which also won a Christopher this year, reminds us that the unlikeliest of people do bravest and most generous of things to help others. An Italian bicycle rider risked his life during the Second World War, to save Jews from the Fascists. It’s a good read, “good” both ways.

    Finally, in the “now it can be told” category, Cyrus L. Sulzberger, II, who was the “New York Times” correspondent in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, from 1939 to 1941, when he wasn’t reporting on the war, was at his personal expense helping Jews flee the Nazis.

    When he was a cub reporter with a Pittsburg newspaper, Sulzberger saw, liked and bought a Salvador Dali painting. (Dali was only beginning to become well known.) Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM, or perhaps one of his aides, had apparently also liked the picture. When Sulzberger began to run out of money in Belgrade, he offered to sell the picture to Watson who paid him $10,000 for it -a lot of money in 1940. Sometime after the war, the reporter approached Watson to try to buy it back. Watson, even though the painting had gone up substantially in value, asked him for only $10,000. He knew what Sulzberger had done with money.

    I can attest personally to one part of the story. I’ve seen the Dali.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    For someone who writes admiringly about two people who lit candles in one of history’s darkest moments, who made small, significant dents in an out-of-control, seemingly hopeless situation, to throw up your hands and toss hope to the wind regarding the Middle East and the impact of Barenboim’s orchestra doesn’t quite compute.

    I see the orchestra as more than symbolic. I think of the young musicians as seeds that will eventually spread their roots and flowers to more and more Jews and Arabs until there’s a literal chorus that exchanges guns for less deadly forms of communication. Imagine the music and applause at the concert that celebrates peace there.

  9. Thomas Said:

    The darkness, manifest in many and varied ways, has been and will be with us for a very long time.

    The light of one candle, however one chooses to light it or finds oneself in its vicinity, makes the darkness more bearable … less frightening. And that singular glow also inspires hope for the time when the darkness will be dispelled completely. At their best, religious services of whatever faith tradition place adherents close to the light, encouraging them to celebrate its reality and to carry it with them beyond the confines of church, synagogue, mosque or temple. A true and oh so necessary antidote to the cynicism of our age!

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You are right about darkness hanging around. The Christopher Awards will be in its 65th year in 2014!

    When I enter a church with the purpose of lighting a candle my heart sinks when it’s not a real one for insurance reasons. While the symbolism is there, perhaps the missing warmth of a wax candle has something to do with my reaction.

    I appreciate your comment about carrying the light beyond the church, synagogue, mosque or temple, a crucial element missed by some.

  11. Martha Takayama Said:

    A dear friend of mine,, a devout Catholic trained as a lay spiritual advisor by Jesuits, was reading the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” last week. The book was written by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner (Author), in 1981, after his son died of progeria. It addresses a multitude of questions reflected in its itle. I know that my friend, who is mourning a 38 year old son who died very recently despite all medical and spiritual efforts to heal him, is finding faith and comfort in this reading.

    The book has been mentioned often over the years, and Rabbi Kushner is often called upon in public forums to address such matters. Therefore his book and his thinking is what seems to offer the sort of spiritual comfort which you discuss.

  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m sorry for your friend’s terrible loss and am glad that Rabbi Kushner’s words were of help.

    Tony Rossi, director of communications for The Christophers, tells me that Rabbi Kushner won a Christopher Award for his book “When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough.”

    I’ve heard of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” A man like this is a perfect example of the Christopher spirit. He sheds light on a horrendous situation for which it’s hard to think of one positive result. His candle: The impact he has to help others.

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