NEW ORLEANS — The Dalai Lama brought his message of peace and compassion Friday to New Orleans, a city plagued by persistent street violence.
The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader expressed condolences to victims of a shooting spree at a Mother's Day parade four days before his arrival here.
"Nonviolence is the only way of solving problems," he told reporters before addressing a gathering at the city's convention center.
Sunday's shooting left 19 people with gunshot wounds and injured another person trying to flee. Police have arrested two brothers suspected of shooting into the crowd and four others accused of helping one of the suspects elude capture.
"The real gun control, ultimately it comes here," the Dalai Lama said, pointing at his heart.
On Saturday, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to speak at the University of New Orleans Lakefront Arena. Tulane University School of Social Work Dean Ron Marks, who helped organize the Dalai Lama's visit, said tickets to the sold-out event have been handed out to victims of last Sunday's shooting.
"It was a tangible gesture of our own compassion and respect for the horrible thing that happened to them," he said.
The Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his nonviolent struggle against Chinese rule of Tibet.
Pope John Paul II was the last global spiritual leader to visit New Orleans. He celebrated Mass before tens of thousands of people at the Superdome in September 1987.
The Dalai Lama also is scheduled to deliver Tulane University's commencement address Saturday at the Superdome. Marks has forged close ties between Tulane and the Tibetan community in India, taking graduate students there for the past 12 years. Two years ago, the Dalai Lama accepted an invitation to come to New Orleans.
Marks said it was especially poignant that he was visiting the city at a time when its violent side is making national news.
"But these are messages that we need to hear all the time," Marks said. "We need to understand how to respect each other. We need to understand how to be more compassionate, how to build a stronger community."
Gail Fenton Pesses, a clinical social worker who attended the Dalai Lama's address at the convention center, expressed hope that his message of solving problems with nonviolence resonates throughout the community.
"You have to start somewhere," he said. "Just making rules and throwing money around and politics is not the solution. His message that it has to start with you and me is such a simple but radical idea."