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Thich Nhat Hanh, “Thay” is the first Buddhist to receive the Catholic Pacem in Terris peace award.

Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Buddhist monk hailing from Vietnam, is the recipient of the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award for 2015.

The Pacem in Terris (meaning 'Peace on Earth') Award was instituted in 1963 by the Diocese of Davenport in Iowa after St. Pope John XIII, the head of the Catholic Church at the time, brought out a papal letter of the same name. This would turn out be his last encyclical, as he succumbed to cancer two months later. Released on Holy Thursday, the pontiff called it his Easter gift to the faithful. John Howard Griffin, the first recipient of the award in 1964, along with John F. Kennedy, who was conferred the award posthumously.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be next recipient of the annual award, and surprisingly, both he and Thich Nhat Hanh shared a common tie – Thích Nhất Hạnh met with King the following year, asking him to condemn the Vietnam War which was ravaging the monk's homeland, and the African-American rights leader was only happy to oblige in 1967. That year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated Thích Nhất Hạnh for the Nobel Peace Prize, although his public statement that he had nominated the Buddhist monk was in violation of norms and no award was bestowed that year.

In commemoration of their historic relationship, a contingent of 120 Buddhist monks will receive the honor on behalf of their 'Thay' (meaning 'Master' or 'Teacher') on October 31, the same day Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was selected for the award. Having suffered a stroke earlier, the 89-year-old Zen master is not physically well enough to make the trip to Davenport, as previous recipients of the award have done, and so Bishop Martin John Amos of the Diocese of Davenport will travel to the 400-acre Deer Park Monastery in California, which was established by Thích Nhất Hạnh in 2000, to present the award.

Thích Nhất Hạnh was forced to flee Vietnam following a failed assassination attempt in 1966, and was accorded official permission to visit the country of his birth only in 2005. In 1982, he founded the Plum Village, a monastery in Bordeaux, and is quoted to have said that on the altar there rests images of both Jesus Christ and Buddha, to whom he lights incense, remembering them as his spiritual ancestors.

Six Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award winners have also been conferred with Nobel Peace Prize.

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