Patrick McCollum and His Improbable Peace Violin
An Instrument of Thy Peace
by Ruth Broyde Sharone
“I’m just an ordinary person,” says Patrick McCollum in all earnestness. But the 66-year-old former jewelry designer, leader in the Pagan community, interfaith minister, and now world peace-maker, has been at the epicenter of extraordinary events that continue to unfold as he is called to serve in the far-flung corners of the globe.
Over the years, Rev. McCollum has been involved in rescuing hostages both in India and in the Middle East. He has interacted with Al-Queda and Boca Haram, the violent military group in Nigeria that horrified the world when in April 2014 they captured 276 young school girls to be used as sex slaves for their army.
He has been asked to brainstorm with Israelis and Palestinians in Jordan to seek solutions for one of the most intractable conflicts in contemporary history.
He has sat at numerous banquet tables with a room full of VIPs, heads of state, diplomats, and world religious leaders – including an ayatola in Iran. He has befriended famed scientists such as Hans Pater Durr, former director of the renowned Max Planck Institute, and one of the last physicists alive to have been involved in the development of the atomic bomb
He met Narandra Modi, currently Prime Minister of India, when Modi was Minister of the Western region of Gujarat. They created a relationship, and now McCollum is working with Modi and others to advance the rights of women in India. He now has their cell numbers at his fingertips on his I-phone.
A chance meeting with Jane Goodall, the fierce protector of the gorilla population in Gambi, Africa occurred at the 2004 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona, when he came to her rescue as she was having difficulty registering. At that time he didn’t know who she was. But that encounter has blossomed into a close friendship and the creation of an alliance for ecological peace that now includes Dr. Jane Goodall, H.H. Puja Swami Chidanand Saraswati, Dr. Vandana Shiva, and H.H. Amrta Suryananda Maha Rája.
And then there’s the World Peace Violin . . .
One night, as Patrick lay in bed, he heard a woman’s voice clearly say to him with great gravitas, “You will build a peace violin, and that violin will become the voice of peace for the world.”
Patrick was not only startled to hear the disembodied voice but was totally bewildered by the request.
“I had never built a violin. I didn’t even know how to play the violin,” he recalls. But the voice insisted that that was his next important mission.
On the one hand he never questioned the source of the voice. He recognized it as Divine Spirit. “But how would I build it?” he wondered. ”What wood would I use? Why would I, neither musician nor violinmaker, be asked to perform such a preposterous task?”
And slowly it began to occur to him that the way to give voice to the victims of war and to consecrate their lives would be to gather and incorporate wood, ashes, sand, and other objects from the most war-torn sites on earth including Auschwitz, Rwanda and Hiroshima. Stored in an urn for more than 60 years in his family home were ashes from Hiroshima that his grandfather had brought back at the end of World War II. Now they would become part of the World Peace Violin.
He carved the front piece of the violin from African wood that had been given to him as a gift, after he helped to resolve a conflict between two tribes in the Congo. The back piece was fashioned from sacred woods given to him by a coalition of Native American tribes in California. The inlaid carving on the violin base originated from an Irish Willow Tree that grew out of a sacred well.
Even the varnish is an amalgamation of elements representing peace efforts around the world: sands from Israel collected from the baptism site of Jesus during an Arab-Israeli peace process and ashes of a white buffalo believed by Indigenous people to herald the beginning of a new era of humanity’s transformation and the establishing of world peace. He added sacred oil from his own pagan tradition because McCollum says he wants the instrument to be the world’s violin, “created by the world and of the world.”
Once completed, the violin itself became a VIP. It was requested as a guest of honor in many parts of the world. Patrick recalls how he found himself waist deep in the Ganges River with 100 million people present during what was most likely the largest gathering in the history of the world, during the Maha Kumba Mehla festival in Allahabad, India. ”That was where the violin was baptized as I submerged it into the sacred waters of the Hindu faith.”
ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI’S PEACE PRAYER
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
O Divine Master, grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
He let it dry for several weeks before he once again took it up to play, noticing the sound was even richer and more compelling than before. Then Yuval Ron, an Academy-award winning composer based in Los Angeles, created a composition specifically for the peace violin, played publicly for the first time at the Seed of Peace interfaith conference organized by the Southern California Parliament of the World's Religions held in April 2015 at Loyola Marymount University. The violinist was Scarlet Rivera, a performer of world renown who once played with Bob Dylan.
In 2015 the “peace violin” was officially enlisted to open the World Summit of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in Atlanta, Georgia and to be played for the International Day of Peace in New York, as well as during the first United Nations International Yoga Day. Once again this year the violin will be heard at the UN on September 16, and also at a grand gathering in New York’s Central Park.
Rev. McCollum’s favorite violinist, Scarlet Rivera, was not always available to perform. So just as he built the violin on his own, he taught himself to play. On July 3 this year, when he playing in honor of the launching of the Peace Pentagon in Independence, Virginia, he apologized for his lack of expertise, but the audience was clearly moved.
Patrick McCollum, who received the Mahatma Gandhi award at the Capitol in DC in 2010 for the advancement of religious pluralism, and the Ralph Bunche International Peace Award in March, 2016 during the UN Conference on the Status of Women, believes the peace violin can change minds and heal hearts. But he also believes that what is most needed to bring peace to our world today is to introduce a meta-narrative that everyone can accept, no matter what their beliefs. For him, that precious meta-narrative can be found in the momentous creation of the world.
“Whether you think that God created the world in six days or whether you are an atheist, everyone can agree that there was a moment of creation when life began. That is what we all have in common,” he underscores, “because we are all connected to the initiating moment of creation. That makes us all family, and therein, I believe, lies the solution to global conflict. That is the meta-narrative we must teach today to children and adults everywhere, because it is our collective story and it will save us from ourselves.”
He delicately places his hand-made peace violin into its turquoise case, preparing for the next global round of peace-talks and performances. He admits he’s baffled as to how all of this came about, but he is willing to live in the mystery, violin in tow.