Seek peace, and pursue it.

Psalm 34

The international initiative Tree of Peace is based on the true story of an ordinary and insignificant human. A soldier. That ordinary and insignificant one among millions is my great-grandfather Ondrej. He was born in Lalinok, a small village in the territory of present-day northwest Slovakia. Lalinok is today a part of Divinka village. Our family has lived in these hills certainly since the beginning of the 16th century. The direct written sources about the Sobola family of Lalinok are from 1580, 1641 or from 1770 and 1780.

Ondrej lived in a simple folk blockhouse, was employed in agriculture and was not really any special person. But I think he had his dreams. Because if he was without dreams, and he didn’t want to change anything in his life, he would never have decided to go to work in the United States. How did he have to feel when he first saw the huge ocean liner? What did she have to be compared to his little wooden blockhouse? And how did he feel when he was for the first time in New York? The mixture of nationalities, unusual bustle and perhaps fear of the unknown also. But he had a clear goal – to ensure a better future for his family. Already from abroad he financially supported his loved ones. After returning home, their conditions improved and the family managed to increase the farmstead. All, however, ended the outbreak of the First World War. Ondrej’s fate was decided by others and elsewhere. All the nice plans and prospects for a beautiful future were once ended by the horrors of war. My great-grandfather never returned home. His wife and children had not known where he was buried for years. I didn’t find out either through demanding historical research. Today I know exactly the same facts as my great-grandmother. We have only one piece of information from the obituary register that he died on the Russian battlefield. It has even been preserved just a single photo of him. At that time, a woman was, in fact, dependent on her husband. The loss of husband and father was something that could have tragic consequences. Fortunately, they managed to overcome these problems. On the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, I decided, as a landscape architect, to plant a tree in memory of my great-grandfather. Only one. So that my family can honour his memory.

On the other hand, the fate of our family and also the Ondrej’s fate is almost identical to the millions of unknown soldiers around the world. It doesn’t matter what their nationalities or religions were. They were fathers, husbands, brothers or sons. Someone who had a name and a face. Someone who laid down his life in military conflict for the freedom of others or was the victim of some natural disaster. Someone who liked his family and the view of his native land. Someone on whom today almost no one will remember. I often come across the question, why and for whom I actually do this project. I think every person should leave a message behind in this world. It doesn’t matter how big and in what form. It is important that we did not live unnecessarily and did something beneficial for society.

The very first international project of Servare et Manere was the restoration of the late Baroque Statue of St. John of Nepomuk in Divina village in northwestern Slovakia. In the Catholic Church, this saint is worshiped as a martyr and is the patron saint of bridges and communications. The restoration project of this statue, which was successfully completed in 2017, was able to unite people from six states, three religions and two continents. Here we have learned that a good idea can unite people of good will, regardless of religion, nationality, gender or skin color.

The success of this project and the story of my great-grandfather inspired me to establish the Tree of Peace initiative, which I do not only do for my great-grandfather. I do it for everyone who has been affected by any senseless military conflict or natural disaster. I do this for those who had their ideals and their dreams of a better life, but something thwarted their effort, desire and dream. The events of 2020 associated with the global coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic have shown that we can still be in solidarity with those who need it. Therefore, we do not only connect our project with the victims of war conflicts.

Today, human tragedies are associated mainly with senseless plundering of nature on land, in the oceans and with air pollution. We can say that all acts contrary to understanding between nations, big environmental burdens and the misuse of natural resources almost always lead to great human sacrifices. The possibilities of Servare et Manere are not enough to stop these conflicts, but we can do at least one thing – to draw attention to them by planting trees as a symbol of friendship, understanding and new life.

Pope Benedict XVI in a message on World Peace Day 2006 said: “Peace is an irrepressible desire present in the heart of every person that transcends any specific cultural peculiarities. That is why everyone must feel obliged to such a valuable good and advocate for it, that no form of lie can creep into it and has not poisoned mutual relations ”.

Therefore, let´s make love the lifeblood of this world.

Marek Sobola


Tree of Peace Marek Sobola Lalinok Divinka Žilina

View of the Lalinok village, part of the Divinka village