Posted Online: Feb. 14, 2014, 2:40 pm
Praying doves don't become prey
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By Leon Lagerstam, firstname.lastname@example.org
MOLINE -- As animal-rights groups petition for a papal prohibition of ceremonial dove releases, a local pastor and Heavenly Heights Dove Release business owner hopes bird lovers will "come fly with us" at the Moline-East Moline Racing Pigeon Club trivia night.
One of Mark Gehrke's doves leaves the holding pen for exercise in 2007. When the Heavenly Heights Dove Release birds are released at an event, they return to Gehrke's Moline home.
The fundraiser will be held Friday, March 14, at the University Club of Moline, 1518 5th Ave., Suite 200. Doors open at 6 p.m., and trivia starts at 7. The cost is $10 per person, with up to eight people per table.
For information, or to register, call the Rev. Mark Gehrke at 563-508-8388.
Contestants may bring their own food but will have to buy drinks at the club.
The event will feature 20 auction items and a raffle to raise more money for an energy-efficient trailer capable of comfortably accommodating 36 boxes of racing pigeons. The trailer will cost about $15,000 to $16,000, Rev. Gehrke said.
Ceremonial dove releases recently came under attack after a Jan. 26 Vatican incident. As Pope Francis prayed for peace in Ukraine, two white doves were released by children standing at the Pope's side. However, a crow and a seagull immediately attacked the doves.
A social activist network known as Care2 filed a petition calling for the end of ceremonial dove releases.
"Nobody saw this dove release as a symbol of peace. It was a scene of violence, which is the opposite of peace," petition creator Chris Wolverton said, according to a Care2 news release.
"I hope that Pope Francis realizes this and will find alternative methods to share his peace message. There are many other symbols he could use like paper cranes, white poppy flowers and the peace sign, to name a few. Putting animals in danger is not a sensible way to promote peace."
The National Animal Protection Agency added a letter saying freeing doves in Rome is like "condemning them to certain death."
Since Rev. Gehrke's first dove release in January 2007, he said he's never seen one of his birds attacked during a ceremony, and never would want something like that to happen.
As a pigeon racer, he said hawks are the biggest problem. "If my birds are up flying, they're pretty much OK. However, if they are sitting on the roof or in a tree, they are the 'new white meat' in town. Do I like it? Not one bit. But all of God's creatures need to eat."
Some online reports suggested that the doves attacked in Rome were an omen suggesting peace in the Ukraine is impossible.
"I believe it was more symbolic of the circle of life," Rev. Gehrke said. "I think anything on this planet can become prey. Even us."
The debate seems more symbolic of the "freedoms we all have living in this country," he said.
"You don't see any of these activists trying to stop the manufacturing of cars, though, which pose a much more serious health risk to us all. Thousands of people die every year in car accidents."
While animal-rights activists are entitled to their opinions, "I also have the freedom to do what I choose to do, and my birds give me enjoyment.
"As a pastor, I'm a lover of all creation," Rev. Gehrke said. "The instincts God has put in them is just amazing. I enjoy seeing them use their God-given abilities to fly 600 to 700 miles away and make it back home."
It's breeding season, and Rev. Gehrke marvels at how the parent birds spend equal time on nests guarding their eggs.
Doves and pigeons mate for life, making them a perfect wedding symbol, he said. "Tradition says if you see a dove on your wedding day, your marriage has been blessed."
When Rev. Gehrke began his Heavenly Heights Dove Release business, "I thought it was going to be mainly for weddings, but it has probably become more popular at funerals," he said.
He said he can't remember a time when a family member didn't say "Now, I feel I've let them go" after a dove was released at a loved one's funeral. "It's a piece of comfort. And if that's a bad thing, I'll continue risking it."
For information about Heavenly Heights, call 309-797-7704 or 563-508-8388, email email@example.com, or visit heavenlyheights.net.
He said his doves, which also are released to celebrate anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, grand openings and retirements, are more environmentally friendly than balloons and more peaceful than fireworks.
And Scripture is full of references on how doves represent the spirit of God and symbolize peace and hope, Rev. Gehrke said. "And I believe when I get to heaven that God will put me in charge of His birds."