NORTH ANDOVER — The Buddhist monks of the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett and their companions are supporting the cause of immigrants and refugees with their feet.

Since March 10, they have been walking across the state in support of a bill that if enacted would make Massachusetts a sanctuary state. This would mean state and local law enforcement agencies would not cooperate with immigration authorities in deporting illegal immigrants.

The bill, called the Safe Communities Act, was authored by state Sen. James Eldridge, D-Acton.

"We felt this was very important," said Tim Bullock, organizer of the walk, in explaining why the monks decided to dedicate this year's journey to immigrants and refugees.

The monks have been doing this hike, called Walk for a New Spring, every year since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The purpose of the walk is to encourage people to embrace "new ways of thinking," Bullock said.

The walk began "in response to 9/11" and serves as a nonviolent "renunciation of war," he said.

The walkers arrived at El Taller Café in Lawrence on Monday afternoon, then headed to the North Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, where they had supper and talked about their mission.

They spent the night with members of the church and Merrimack Valley People for Peace.

After traveling to Newburyport, Ipswich, Beverly and Salem, they will go to Boston, where they will participate in a rally at the Statehouse at 11 a.m. Thursday in support of the Safe Communities Act.

From Boston, they will head for Washington, D.C., where Congressman James McGovern, D-Worcester, will host them at a reception in the Rayburn House Office Building. They will not be walking to the nation's capital, said Bullock, who takes care of all the details of the walk, including where the participants eat and spend the night.

They will depend on cars to get to Washington.

Bullock said the monks and others who accompany them on their annual trek believe in "the power of walking."

"It's common for us to walk," said Brother Towbee, who lives at the New England Peace Pagoda in Leverett and is a member of the Buddhist monastic order Nipponzan Myohoji. He converted to Buddhism from Christianity and said his adopted faith has "helped me understand more deeply what Jesus taught."

Both he and his fellow monk, the Rev. Yuichi Kamoshita, stressed the nonviolent nature of the walk. Kamoshita is from Okinawa, Japan, where the United States has a large military base – and plans to make it even larger.

Kamoshita said the base has an adverse effect on the island and its people. The expansion project will tear up a large tract of jungle, U.S. military personnel used toxic chemicals while cleaning up the wreckage of a plane that crashed on Okinawa, and American servicemen have raped Okinawan women, he said.

Kamoshita said he wants Americans to visit Okinawa and see firsthand the base's impact on the island.

The walkers have been averaging about 12 miles per day, Bullock said. The group varies between eight and 12, Towbee said, with some people joining the walkers for a short distance.

The reception along the route, which included stops in Amherst, Holyoke, Springfield, Greenfield, Worcester, Fall River, New Bedford and Plymouth, has been very positive, he said.

"More people are waking up," he said.

Editor's note: This story has been edited to correct the name of Merrimack Valley People for Peace.

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