BATAVIA — Hungary, Brazil, New Zealand, the United States.
It’s a diverse group of runners, to put it mildly. But their goal’s universal.
“A lot of the time we get caught up in differences, like different religions and different cultures,” said Salil Wilson, a native Australian who now lives in New York City. “But if you can just take one step back, we’re one world family. And if we can treat each other like true brothers and sisters, and find peace and harmony in our own hearts, world peace will take place.”
Wilson, 47, is executive director of the World Harmony Run. It’s described as the word’s largest torch relay, with the current leg passing through New York’s rural countryside.
The runners stopped Saturday at the Batavia Peace Garden. They included 13 runners from nine nations spanning the globe.
Founded 25 years ago by peace advocate and spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy, the World Harmony Run promotes international friendship and understanding.
The organization honored founder and International Peace Garden President Paula Savage of Batavia with its Torch-Bearer Award, during an April ceremony at the United Nations.
“We feel a lot of synergy with your goals and how you’re going about them,” Wilson said. “Because I think humanity’s yearning for peace finds expression in many different ways.
“Obviously one way of contributing is running, but also through ecology, the appreciation of nature, and providing spaces where people can reflect what peace means to them,” he said. “I think it’s really important to have a little oasis like this where people can come and think about peace in their own lives and hearts, and how they can share it with the community.”
As for the run?
Participants typically run about six to 15 miles daily before handing the torch to another runner. They’ll travel through 48 states by the time they’ve concluded the U.S. portion.
The group on Saturday included runners Harikanta Ketova of Russia; Kagni Leinonen of Finland; and Ratuja Zub of Belarus.
Zub’s been with the relay since the beginning, while Leinonen and Zub have participated for two weeks and four days respectively.
They’re acquainted with New York City mostly, so they’ve been seeing the countryside and meeting people along the way.
“It’s a very diverse and beautiful country,” Zub said.
“People all over have been great,” Ketova added. “They give us food, they prepare food for us, and they really appreciate what you are doing. This is amazing.”
And they joined for similar reasons.
Zub likes the idea of peace in the world and togetherness of all the cultures and religions. Ketova helped organize a similar event in Russia, and wanted the experience of running in another country — describing the U.S. as very nice and beautifully.
They also share a love of running, which includes comrades such as Lazlo Szente of Hungary, and Rupasi Young of Seattle.
“They are extremely nice people, the Americans,” Leinonen said.
A brief ceremony on Saturday also featured comments from Savage, along with proclamations by Genesee County Legislator Ed DeJaniero Jr., City Council President Patti Pacino, and Roger Parker of Alpina Foods, which sponsored the event.
“I think for all of us — the people who are running, or participating, or who see us when they’re driving down the road — they have a greater feeling of hope for humanity,” Young said shortly afterward. “The people who are running find we’re very alike. We care about the same things, and we hope the world will become better.
“The who are driving by also feel some hope, because they see people are doing something positive. And for the people we meet with, it inspires their own hope and faith in humanity. I think it kind of inspires them to have faith in what they’re doing themselves.”