Buddhist order stops by Great Barrington in walk for 'sanctuary'

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GREAT BARRINGTON — They came through town under a bright sun with their drums, chants, and the sowing of a peaceful spirit, just before spring.

Great Barrington was just one stop on a 56-day trek through Massachusetts, and on to Washington, D.C., to spread the idea of "sanctuary."

Sixteen years ago the monks and nuns from the New England Peace Pagoda, a Nippozan Myohoji Buddhist Order based in Leverett, began their "Walk for a New Spring."

This year it is dedicated to Sanctuary Cities, communities that are taking steps to protect local undocumented immigrants from getting snared by federal authorities amid what appears to be a more aggressive enforcement of immigration law after Donald Trump became president.

Organizer Tim Bullock stopped walking for a moment to talk. He said this walk also specifically calls for support of the "Safe Communities Act of Massachusetts," a bill introduced by state Sen. James Eldridge that would keep local police from participating in federal immigration enforcement, prohibit a Muslim database registry, and make sure immigrants have the same legal rights as documented citizens.

They came to the right place on Friday: Great Barrington voters will have a chance to make their town a "Sanctuary City" at annual town meeting in May after a group of citizens drafted a proposed "Trust Policy" for the town's books.

Bullock said the annual walk started in response to what happened in New York on 9/11, and that the group also wants to promote the idea of a "Sanctuary World" that would demilitarize both domestically and internationally.

The group started out in Leverett on March 10, and Friday went through Pittsfield, Lenox, and Lee as well. By the end of the month, they'll be in Boston — then it's on to the nation's capital in early April.

Brother Towee, a member of the order, said a big aim here was to prevent a generalized fear he said was only partly brought on by the election of President Trump.

"There's a silver lining around that cloud," he said, adding that it is regular people who can change the fearful atmosphere and the policies behind it.

"People are waking up and caring about people," he added.

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871.


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