Several centuries ago, Portuguese explorers set sail from Lisbon to explore the world over the seas.
On Sunday, the world, or at least representative parts of it, came to Lisbon, as Rotarians from more than 225 countries and geographic areas gathered for the opening plenary session of the 2013 Rotary International Convention, Lisbon: A Harbor for Peace.
Peace took center stage all day. During his opening remarks, RI President Sakuji Tanaka, who selected Peace Through Service as this year's RI theme, shared how he came to make a connection between peace and service. He recalled that he was still very young when he heard the radio broadcast by Japanese Emperor Hirohito announcing the end of World War II.
"Until that day, the country had been working together to win the war. Now, we would work together to rebuild. And we would work together to build a new identity for Japan: one that was committed to peace," he said.
Tanaka said when he joined the Rotary Club of Yashio, Japan, years later, he learned about the idea of Service Above Self.
"Through Rotary, I realized that I was working to make other people's lives better. I wanted to serve my customers, not only for my own profit, but so that they would be happier from my work, and my employees would also have better lives," he said. "Now, I see my business in a very different way. And I see Rotary service as an idea that is not limited to my Rotary club. Everything we do for other people helps to make the world a better place."
Tanaka said that by meeting basic human needs and engaging in international service projects, Rotary builds peace daily. He said he has seen the many different ways that Rotarians build peace through service during his year as president.
"Here in Lisbon, at this Rotary convention, we have the chance to experience the world as it could be: with people from every continent united to make their world a better place," he said. "Here, we see how little our differences matter. Here, we focus on what is truly important: what we can do to help others live better and happier lives."
Portugal's Minister of Solidarity and Social Security, Pedro Mota Soares, praised Rotarians for their peacemaking efforts and for tackling large causes like the eradication of polio.
"What is important to Rotary is important to Portugal, it is important to any country, and it is important to the world," he said. "You put your interest aside for the benefit of the world. It is something we as politicians should do more often."
The quartet Il Divo, composed of Swiss tenor Urs Buhler, Spanish baritone Carlos Marin, French pop artist Sebastien Izambard, and American tenor David Miller, performed at the conclusion of the plenary. Buhler noted that the members of the group, being from four different countries, share Rotary's understanding of the importance of setting aside personal differences to work for the common good.
After the plenary, Bill Thompson, a member of the Rotary Club of Port Orange South Daytona, Florida, said he felt the emphasis on peace is very appropriate.
"Especially given the conflict that is going on in the world, to have an organization like Rotary making such an influence is very gratifying," he said.
Assam Musonza, a member of the Rotary Club of Gweru, Zimbabwe, referred to the conflict in his own country.
"Peace is quite an important theme," he said. "Peace is not just about villages not fighting each other. It's about peace within us. Because when we have peace within ourselves, we do not want to fight with each other."
- Read more about the convention on Rotary Voices