Georges Henri Pire

From New World Encyclopedia

Dominique Pire (Georges Charles Clement Ghislain Pire) (February 10, 1910 – January 30, 1969) was a Belgian Dominican monk whose work helping refugees in post-World War II Europe was honored by the Nobel Foundation in awarding to him the Nobel Peace Prize of 1958. Through the organizations he founded, Pire's humanitarian and peace activities have benefited thousands of people around the world. However, more significantly, his advocacy of human unity and of the hidden potentiality of the "open heart" inspired and continue to inspire numerous others. Although a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, he preferred to speak about universal concepts that transcend the particularities of religion or creed.

An enthusiastic supporter of internationalism, he founded the Peace University to promote dialogue and fraternity. "Brotherly love," he said, is the only true and enduring "foundation of peace," and it "is not something to lecture about, but something to put into practice." His talent was to bring out generosity and humanness in others. Unlike others who have won the Nobel Peace Prize, he was not a politician or an occupant of high office even in his own Church. He was simply a man who believed that if each of us try to do some good, the world can become a better place. An "initial act of love" might only seem to benefit a few people, he said, but it "eventually affects the whole world, becoming a bond of international solidarity. This is truly magnificent."[1]


Pire was born in Dinant, Belgium where his father was a local official. During World War I his family fled from the advancing German army. When they returned to Belgium, they found their home in ruins. Pire studied classics and philosophy at the Collège de Bellevue, but at the age of 18 he entered the Dominican order at Huy, Belgium, taking his final vows in 1932 with the religious name of "Dominique Pire." He then studied theology and the social sciences at the Dominican University in Rome, receiving his doctorate in theology in 1934. Returning to the monastery of La Sarthe, in Huy he took up teaching duties there. However, his academic interests in sociology and moral philosophy encouraged him to look at the world outside the monastery, where he soon realized there was much work to be done. His first venture into what became a life-long commitment to humanitarian work was trying to help impoverished families improve their standard of living and gain a sense of dignity. Later, he would speak of the "infinite value" of "each human being" and of "love" as the "greatest asset on this earth," which we can "give … concrete form by practicing … in our relations with each individual." [2]. He founded two organizations at this time, the Service d'entr'aide familiale (Mutual Family Aid) and Stations de plein air de Huy (Open Air Camps) for children.

World War II

During the Second World War, Pire served as chaplain for the Belgian resistance in which he actively participated, helping to smuggle Allied pilots out of the country and providing intelligence. After the war, he was awarded the Military Cross with Palms, the Resistance Medal with Crossed Swords, the War Medal, and the National Recognition Medal.

Interest in refugees

In 1949, he met an official of the United Nations working with refugees, and began to realize the scale of what was at the time referred to as "the refugee problem." He began to study the issues and wrote a book about this, Du Rhin au Danube avec 60,000 D. P. He then founded Aid to Displaced Persons, which organized sponsorships of refugee families, and during the 1950s built a sequence of villages in Austria and Germany to help house many refugees. By 1960, the organization had 18,000 supporters and had become an international agency, with branches in ten European countries. In 1957, it changed its name to Aid to Displaced Persons and European Villages, bringing the management of the Villages under its remit. One of the villages was named for Albert Schweitzer, another for Anne Frank. In his Nobel Lecture, citing from Schweitzer, he described him as "his friend." The concept behind the villages was to help refugees regain their dignity and their independence. Pire later spoke of the "monstrous loneliness" of refugees, "The displaced, he found, suffer from 'a rusting of the soul,' from a total uprooting, not only from their own countries, but from the world of men. They are alone, monstrously alone, and completely deprived of love. These people are sitting on a suitcase in a station, and have been waiting all these years for a train that will never come." [3]

So that families could regain their pride, men were encouraged to work and women to keep "a clean house with curtains at the windows, and men in earning their own wages, before the 'weight of the odor and the noise' of the D.P. camps would fall away, and settlers would be capable again of love and hope." [4]. Families had to pay half the rent. Today, these Villages still house about 20 displaced families. Sponsors sent food, clothes and medicines to the families.

Concept of the "open heart"

Although a monk, Dominique Pire always refused to mix his personal faith with his social engagements, which was not always understood by his hierarchy. Rather than using explicitly Christian language, which could potentially alienate some from supporting his work, he chose to use more universal terms, such as the "Open Heart." Later, he spoke of two ideas as fundamental to his thinking:

"Two ideas are dear to me. The first is that for us each refugee is a man, a being of infinite worth, who deserves all our attention, all our love, whatever his nationality, his religion, his learning, his poverty, his moral misery. The other idea is, so to speak, the certainty of the deep unity of the human race. Newton said. 'Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.'" For Nobel Laureate Pire, there are still many bridges to be built for the 200,000 European refugees that his heart has as yet been unable to reach.[5].

To raise money for his organization, he launched the Europe of the Heart, "a crusade aimed at the hearts of all men regardless of religious, national, racial, and linguistic barriers".[6]

Pire was an early champion of the concept of European unity, which he believed had to be built on humanitarianism and on recognition of the worth and dignity of all European citizens. His philosophy, though, extended this notion of fraternity to the whole world. He later said:

Let us learn, then, once and for all, to see a human brother in each person, no matter how greatly he differs from us in his ideas, his social position, his mentality, or his beliefs. Let us learn, also, once and for all, to assess a man at his true value, a value which is always infinite.[7]

Nobel Prize

No one was more surprised than Pire himself when he heard that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize. His first response was to say that, at 48, he was "too young." However, thousands of people had already benefited from his work and his championship of the unity of humanity and his concept of the "open heart" had become a source of inspiration to numerous others.

In presenting the Prize, Gunnar Jahn said:

Father Pire's work for the refugees was undertaken to heal the wounds of war. But he looks much further ahead for, as he has said himself, our aim must be 'to erect a bridge of light and love high above the waves of colonialism, anti-colonialism, and racial strife'. Indeed, we must do more than that, we must by our actions spread the gospel of brotherhood among men, nations, and races. [8].

In his Nobel Lecture, Pire spoke of the need to go beyond mere "tolerance" of the other:

This negative word implies grudging concessions by smug consciences. Rather, let us speak of mutual understanding and mutual respect. Every man is obliged to act in accordance with his conscience. If my neighbor holds an opinion different from mine, do I have any right to consider him dishonest or evil? Should I not rather believe as a matter of course that he is good and expect him to adhere faithfully to the dictates of his conscience? Saint Thomas Aquinas, the prince of all the theologians, wrote in connection with the differences in religious beliefs: "If a man truly believes it wrong to serve Christ, he commits a sin if he serves Him." [9].

He spoke of how by helping others, his own deep sense of loneliness was alleviated:

On the social level, I try to give aid—to the best of my ability—to all who seek it from me, regardless of their opinions. I deserve no special credit for this; it is simply my nature. Tolerance, kindness, and charity—that is my code; and God is good to me, for in this way He permits me to alleviate my utter loneliness.

By recognizing the "common denominator" in all people, common action and even the reconciliation of differences can follow. He said:

The best way to live in peace, with mutual love and respect, is to recognize our common denominator. This common denominator carries a truly splendid name: Man. Let us learn, then, once and for all, to see a human brother in each person, no matter how greatly he differs from us in his ideas, his social position, his mentality, or his beliefs. Let us learn, also, once and for all, to assess a man at his true value, a value which is always infinite.

A "sacred union," he said, bind all humans together:

The sacred union existing between two brother human beings who rediscover themselves as men of true dignity while working together to save a third, rids us of many of the barriers of prejudice, narrow-mindedness, and discrimination that poison human love and sap its strength.

A wider stage

After winning the Peace Prize, Pire also helped to set up a "Peace University" known as the Mahatma Gandhi International Peace Centre in Huy in 1960, to raise global understanding based on his notion of international fraternity and fraternal dialogue. He oversaw the building of a center with accommodation for 50 people and conference and dining facilities. Later, following a visit to Pakistan in 1960, convinced that peace would not be achievable without the eradication of poverty, he founded "Islands of Peace," an NGO dedicated in the long term development of rural populations of developing countries. Projects were started in Bangladesh and India. Islands of Peace encourages self-help and collaboration between local and international agencies.


Pire died from complications from surgery January 30, 1969. Until his death, in addition to his humanitarian work he taught moral philosophy and undertook pastoral and religious duties in Huy.


More than 30 years after his death, the four organizations he founded are still active. Perhaps, however, the most significant aspect of his legacy is his appeal to universal values. Gunnar Jahn, in presenting his Nobel Peace Prize, remarked that as an academic Pire could easily have withdrawn "into the shell of the intellectual." Instead, his "university life seems to have left him free from narrow dogmatism in his attitude to men." What motivated him most of all was the desire to translate his ideas about love into practical action. [10]


  1. Georges Pire, "Nobel Lecture" (1958)Nobel Lecture Retrieved August 17, 2007
  2. Jahn, Gunnar "Nobel Peace Prize, 1958 Nobel Peace Prize, 1958 Retrieved August 17, 2007
  3. "Open on the World," Time Nov. 24, 1958 Open on the World Retrieved August 17, 2007
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. "Biography," Norwegian Nobel Prize Committee Georges Pire: Biography Retrieved August 17, 2007
  7. Pire, (1958) Nobel Lecture Retrieved August 17, 2007
  8. Jahn, (1958) [1] Retrieved August 17, 2007
  9. Pire, (1958) Nobel Lecture Retrieved August 17, 2007
  10. Jahn, (1958)

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Houart, Victor. The Open Heart; The Inspiring Story of Father Pire and the Europe of the Heart. London: Souvenir Press, 1959. ASIN B000KINXVU
  • Pire, Georges. Des enfants et des tests: pour une psychométrie scientifique et une psycho-pédagogie au service de tous les enfants. Liège: H. Dessain, 1976.
  • Pire, Dominique, and Charles Dricot. Building Peace. London: Transworld Publishers, 1967.
  • Pire, Dominique. Europe of the Heart: The Autobiography of Father Dominique Pire, Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. London: Hutchinson, 1960.

External Links

All links retrieved June 19, 2017.

Organizations founded by Dominique Pire
  • Aide aux Personnes Déplacées : is active in the field of refugees in Belgium and sponsors children in developing countries.
  • Université de Paix : specializes in conflict prevention in the family and work place.
  • Iles de Paix : conducts long term development projects with the populations of Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru.


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