Lanza del Vasto was born to a noble family in Italy in 1901. After studying philosophy he journeyed to India in 1936 where he studied under various Hindu holy men. He met Mahatma Gandhi and lived at Gandhi’s ashram long enough to become deeply acquainted with his philosophy of nonviolence and its practice. Gandhi gave him the name Shantidas, “Servant of Peace.”
Shantidas returned to Europe committed to the work of reconciliation among religions and resistance to violence in all its forms. He and his wife Chanterelle founded the Community of the Ark in France in 1948 as a community of common prayer to apply nonviolence in every area of life. They sought to be as self-sufficient as possible. From the base of their community they launched protests against exploitation and violence such as campaigns against concentration camps, against torture during the Algerian war, and for the rights of conscientious objectors.
Del Vasto was a committed Catholic, and he worked tirelessly to remind the Catholic Church about the gospel message of peace. He fasted for forty days in Rome as part of an appeal to the Pope to issue a statement against the arms race. In recognition of his witness he was given an advance copy of Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris. This Servant of Peace died in 1981.
The Community of the Ark was open to people of all religious faiths. Del Vasto maintained his own spiritual roots in Catholicism, but he was able to learn deeply from people in other religious traditions, recognize and embrace what was held in common, and work together for respect of issues of conscience and human rights. He held high a vision of a future with nonviolence and was known for being a person of peace, strength and joy.