Pierre Ceresole was born in 1879 in Lausanne, Switzerland. His family was wealthy and his father was for some time the president of the Swiss Federal Council. Pierre was gifted and was given a good education. He studied mathematics with a plan of becoming an engineer and was expected to make a brilliant career. However, he was neither attracted by money nor position. He gave the money he inherited from his father to the State, because he did not think he deserved it.
Pierre's interests in people took him out on a long journey in 1910. He went to the USA, where after some time he got the idea of continuing around the world. But first he had to earn some more money. He tried many different jobs. Among other things he worked as a gravedigger, using a pick and shovel for the first time. These tools were to become very important in his life.
Via Hawaii Pierre went to Japan, where he worked as an engineer for two years. At the outbreak of war in August 1914 he returned to Switzerland. He was shaken by what he saw of the war. The misery and madness of war became more and more clear to him. He thought it was particularly appalling that Christians allowed themselves to be used for the war, thus making the nation-state into an idol. He realized that he must join the Christian Conscientious Objectors, who opposed all forms of service in the army. In 1917 he refused to pay defence tax and made public his decision, ascribing it to his Christian conscience. Pierre knew that this would ruin his career and send him to prison. He was to be imprisoned at least ten times during the rest of his life. In 1919 Pierre gave up his career as an engineer to devote himself entirely to peace work.
The Quakers, with their whole-hearted pacifism and their practical contribution to peace, introduced Pierre to constructive peace work. He realised that the young, who had previously been trained for destruction, must be recruited for peace instead.
Pierre's ideas soon materialized. He went to Esnes near Verdun to initiate civil service work in a devastated area which had been a battle-field a few years earlier. With him were some German and Austrian pacifists who were eager to work in France as a form of compensation. English, Dutch and Swiss volunteers joined them. Together they cleared the debris of the war and built new houses. Their five months of hard work and simple life taught Pierre what he called "peace work technique".
The next time Pierre assembled volunteers from different countries was to help in Switzerland, where avalanches had caused severe damage. This project was successful and afterwards more work waited. The number of volunteers kept increasing.
In 1928 700 volunteers from 17 countries joined in the reconstruction work in Liechtenstein after the Rhinefloods. Between 1929 and 1938 32 workcamps were held in France, England and Switzerland alone.
From 1934 to 1937 Pierre and three others were active in India. In the aftermath of earthquakes they worked as "diplomats, architects, bricklayers and laborers", helping hundreds of farmers. It was in India that Pierre joined the Quakers.
During World War II Pierre attempted to enter Germany illegally in order to confront the German leaders and persuade them to end the war. He was captured and put in prison. Shortly after his release he died. Before Pierre Ceresole's death, however, the war came to an end and his creation, Service Civil International, which has served as a model for other organizations, was revived.
Pierre Ceresole in Bihar state, India, 1935
Pierre Ceresole's Thoughts
Life remains beautiful. It is healthy that it should be hard. It remains utterly beautiful in spite of difficulties if one does not betray the Eternal…..""All this willed morality is atrocious. You do not have the right to be moral unless it is your joy, your highest artistic expression. One must struggle for a noble life exactly as the poet struggles to create beautiful verse, - in the same spirit - for the love of the thing itself.""Never ask that circumstances become easier, but always that one's strength become greater, and joyfully accept rest and ease when they come along the way.
I ask for one grace - not to be disloyal, and also that the fear of being disloyal not lead me into some new disloyalty.
Pray the Eternal to grease your weather-cock so that it turn well at the true wind of the Spirit and not remain caught by the rust of tradition in a position unrelated to truth.
Fear, the principal enemy, especially fear of oneself; fear of not being adequate, of repeating the same mistakes indefinitely. The greatest danger is compromise with the enemy within oneself:Fear of letting go of one's money,Fear of stepping out of one's environment,Fear of changing jobs,Fear of seeing things as they are,Fear of names, systems, words,Fear of death.
There is but one salvation for man - to have the courage to go forward on truth's farthest pinnacle.
There is no point in giving the slightest amount of time to any argument in favor of your truth as long as you have not courageously lived it. To act courageously - that is the only argument; otherwise it is too easy and it carries no weight. Christ hardly argued otherwise.
What do I want? I want that peace and joy which can be mine only if they belong at the same time to all men, and which otherwise I reject, consciously. National satisfaction and security for my country only while others are in misery - monstrous.
Those most need to be loved who no longer know how to love - souls that wander outside Paradise in the dark and cold."
We cannot see that you believe in God; the sword you wear blocks our view.
We have a law against the slaughter of cattle according to Jewish custom; we might have one against the slaughter of men according to Christian custom.
Mr. X observes that the Church has given its sanction to this war. You think that sanctifies war? I feel it dishonors the Church.
ON VOLUNTARY SERVICE FOR PEACE
These masses of men and material! Can the principle of a spiritual order, sure, obstinate, steadfast unto death, stand up against them, be strong enough to resist them? Yes, yes, certainly; but be faithful in action, do not spill out in words.""The position of the pacifist is unbearable if he does not undertake intense, practical action of his own….. We need the firm rock of well-directed action if we are to resist the terrible drift dragging us towards reactions of fear, hatred, and violence.""What is impressive is that as word follows word the effect is weaker, while with each stroke of the pick the effect is stronger. One gets disgusted with words;' one does not get disgusted with creative service.
The joyful, happy, free collaboration of men working and living for each other - that is the true miracle which can bring about all other specific miracles.""The learning of solidarity must begin 'way down,' where man still sees his own interest easily and directly.