Report: International Module in the Netherlands

EPIL Tuesday, 20th September 2022

The stay in the Dominican Priory was special.

A surrounding that was breathing a spiritual atmosphere maybe also due to its pious inhabitants that lived there for more than 150 years. Today there is still living a very small community of monks in the Priory.

One of the EPIL participants described the ‘Tour in and around the Dominican Priory and conversation with Dominican sisters!’ on Tuesday 20th of September from 10:00 – 12:30 as follows:

Dominicanenklooster Huissen

Wings had been added to the mansion and for many years it could accommodate about 100 monks. It also provided access to the church that was built in the back yard, where monastic celebrations still take place daily. It is regrettable that at this moment there are only two Dominican brothers keeping the order alive, and the monastery has been forced to become place of retreatment as well. For most of us, a monastic life is not something that we consider as an option. That is why it was very interesting to meet after the tour, two Dominican sisters, who had deliberately decided to join the order at a later age. Not that they lived here in this monastery – after all, the orders have separate sections for men and women. The sisters related to us their personal experiences that led them to this unusual choice. A lot of questions were fired after their stories, all of which were answered candidly.

It turned out that there was also room to give one’s own interpretation to certain aspect, such as wearing the habit. One sister said that she didn’t wear it every day, while the other did. It was interesting to note that women still choose for a religious life, structured by ancient customs. Although also their “women’s priory” consisted of only five members.”

The morning meditations were a good beginning of the day together.

On Tuesday the Dutch group draw the attention to the ongoing asylum seekers crisis in the Netherlands. They outlined the context of the Dutch politics, and showed some well-chosen video footage. The morning meditation was concluded by each individual pronouncing a prayer for those who suffer in this world.

On Thursday 22th September the Bosnian group organized the morning meditation. The subject was: ‘Cooperation’. A video was displayed showing that ‘cooperation‘ is the only way to reach a goal together.

On Friday 23rd September the Austrian presented their ‘morning meditation’ that for organizational reasons was postponed until the afternoon. During the ‘meditation’ the theme was Calling on God from Different Denominations. A song was sung together, then a Quran recitation followed and everyone could choose cards which displayed some of the 100 names of Allah. It ended with a dialogue to discuss the chosen cards.

The program day by day:

EPIL Tuesday, 20th September 2022

In the morning was the Tour in and around the Dominican Priory and conversation with Dominican sisters!’ (see description above)

Tuesday after lunch, Stella van de Wetering gave a lecture about the theme of this EPIL session

Revisiting Integration – the challenge of Migrant Communities

With a PowerPoint presentation, she showed in bird’s-eye view which flows of immigrants have entered the Netherlands. Stella highlighted the rather unknown fact that during the colonization of Dutch Indië, the Netherlands had been the Western country with the largest Muslim population – until “Dutch Indië” became independent Indonesia.

Body Language by Leonie van Straaten

After dinner, there was a workshop that was called: “Body language.” The teacher, Leonie van Straaten, led us out of our heads through bodily movements. This is how we initially came into contact with our own body again. But later in the workshop we also communicated with each other through bodily movements, for example by mirroring each other in groups of two people. In one exercise – done in groups of four people, we had to show our dearest prayer position, which was imitated by others. The workshop turned out to be relaxing and connecting as well. After the workshop, we introduced the program for the next day. By then we went asleep. It had been a very good day!

EPIL Wednesday, 21th September 2022: The Excursion to Amsterdam

On Wednesday we enjoyed as usual a very good breakfast and departed by bus and train to Amsterdam. We had a long day to go, a visit to the Portuguese Synagogue and the Jewish Museum, the Taibah Mosque in the ‘Bijlmer’, sightseeing in town, including a visit to a Museum of choice and in the evening a Public Event with panelists. A very nice, interesting but also very long day! During the journey to Amsterdam there were jokes again about ‘checking in and checking out’ with the Public Transport Chip Card which was an unknown system for the Bosnians and Austrians and it was difficult for them to get used to checking in and checking out all the time. In their home countries travelling in the Public Transport was somehow more easy and free of worrying. This made travelling in the Public Transport in the Netherlands with a big international group somehow more complicated than we had expected. But anyhow we were on our way!

Visiting the Jewish Portuguese Synagogue

The first goal was visiting the Jewish Portuguese Synagogue. Because we were early, we had to wait a little, but then our guide, an energetic elderly lady from the Portuguese Jewish community entered. She told a lot about the Portuguese Jewish community in the Netherlands and Amsterdam in particular. It was very interesting and educational, because most of us didn’t know much about the Jewish communities in Amsterdam. For example that they had come already several centuries before WWII. And how the Synagogue was a statement in those days for Amsterdam, as a place where people from all over the World could find refuge to survive persecution etcetera, also the Jews, which was quite exceptional in those days compared with other countries in the world … We learned about the Portuguese-Jewish (the Sephardic community) then and nowadays, very interesting. They flew from the Iberic peninsula. In 1492 they were forced to leave Spain or to convert to Christianity. In 1497 the Sephardim in Portugal were put to the same choice. They were in general well educated and rather well to do. They engaged in trade. The other Jewish community is Amsterdam were the Ashkenazim Jews, that had flown from other countries in Europe especially from Eastern Europe but also from England and France.

The Jewish Monument

After the visit to the Synagogue we walked to the Jewish Monument, which was sad and impressive at the same time! While you walk around the Monument you see all the names, all the families and all the people who were killed in WWII, even little babies of a few months. One of the students said:

It reminded me of the Srebrenica Monument in Bosnia, which arose in me the same feeling of sadness and anger on what had happened.

Visiting the Taibah Mosque

The same student also reported on the visit to the Mosque afterwards. Afterwards we went to the Mosque in the Bijlmermeer (Amsterdam South East), that was visited by a mix of different Muslim Communities (The ‘Hindustanis’ community from Surinam , the Ghanese and Nigerian community and other communities). For me it was a nice visit especially because I had lived for 5 years next to his mosque and had never visited it. It was a special experience to see the interior of the Mosque and to speak to the people in the Mosque. 2 Muslimas were speakers and one of them also gave a guided tour: a younger student of the Vrije Universiteit [i.e. Free University: free from the State and free from the Church] in Amsterdam, who was finishing her study at the Medical Faculty and a women of about 50 years old, who had her own medical practice and pharmacy in the Bijlmermeer. It was beautiful to see how these women embraced their culture, their religion and their success. And how they tried to give it to the younger generations of their community visiting the mosque. They showed dedication, passion, strength hand satisfaction with their life. What I learned from both visits (the synagogue and the mosque), is that one sometimes has no idea of the treasures that surround you. And that it is worthwhile to emerge yourself in, the perspective and life-experience of – sometimes your own neighbors – that can be an enrichment for yourself. Thanks for this to EPIL. However the experiences of some other students in the Mosque were different. Some told me, that they felt excluded, when the guides of the tour mentioned that from an Islamic perspective one could not really consider a Christian as a believer. Luckily two of the EPIL Muslim facilitators underlined, that there were different opinions on the topic in the Islamic communities!

Visit to the Jewish Synagoge

Visit to the Mosque in the Bijlmermeer.

Wednesday in the afternoon

After the interesting and extended visit to the Taibah mosque we were walking together to a place where we could have our Lunch. We found a Turkish restaurant and thanks to a good word that our Turkish-Bosnian participant Serap put in they arranged for us a table outside in the sun! After a delicious lunch we split our group in three. One group went to the “Tropenmuseum“, where was an exhibition on the colonial past of the Netherlands. The second group decides to go back to the “Waterlooplein“ to visit the Jewish Museum. The last group took the Metro to Amsterdam Central Station to visit the museum that is called: Ons’ Lieve Heer op Solder [Our Dear Lord in Attic] and a little walk through town. Unfortunately time fell short and we decided to spend the limited time for a walk through the Center of Amsterdam and one of the participants take the others with her to one of her favorite pubs for a nice cup of coffee or tea. Only one of the group decided to visit the museum anyhow!

Wednesday in the evening: The Mini Symposium in the Oosterpark Church

In the early evening we continue our tour in the direction of the Oosterparkkerk [the Church at the East Park]. The whole group is united again and the volunteers of the Oosterparkkerk serve to us a delicious Indonesian diner. One of the famous kitchens in the Netherlands.

At 19:00 PM the Evening Program starts: a Mini Symposium about Amsterdam as a Superdiverse City and about the problem of Refugees in the Netherlands and in Amsterdam. The title was: Amsterdam, Finding Refuge in a Superdiverse City. It was a Public Event and besides the EPIL participants, also other interested guests had gathered in the Church to listen to the 5 Panelists: Martina Heinrichs (Chair), Saida Derrazi, Gatra Peshtaz, Anne-Maria van Hilst en Nienke Hofsink. All had a different religious and/ or ethnic background and they shared their vision on the problems of migrants and refugees in Amsterdam and the Netherlands. They told about their own communities and how they reacted on the situation in Ter Apel where refugee families had to sleep outside in the cold, because there was no sleeping place for them in the asylum center.

Questions were put on the different crises of this age, they shared their experiences with interreligious encounters and the commitments arising out of them, the history of the migration to the Netherlands (for example the guest laborer’s), and how we can and must listen to the problems of all kinds of different groups in society. Despite the long day we had behind us, everybody was listening with full attention to the questions of the audience and the answers of the panel. Satisfied and inspired we went on our way back to Huissen.

EPIL Thursday, 22nd September 2022:

Preparing the Diploma Work

In the morning after the Morning Meditation of the Bosnian group, free time was planned for the students to finish their Diploma works, that they had to present in the beginning of the evening. The purpose of the diploma work, that the participants had prepared was to make a presentation on what they had learned in the EPIL course and how they think they can integrate it in daily life.

Three Lectures on Religious Migrant Communities in the Netherlands

In the afternoon from 14.30 onwards three Lectures were planned on migrant communities, integration, and the history of migration.

1. A lecture of Anne-Maria van Hilst, expert on Judaism from a Jewish perspective. She highlighted the history of the Jewish communities in the Netherlands from the 17th Century until today. And also the meaning of hospitality in Judaism. The staying of the Jewish community in the Netherlands was not without problems. As is every immigration and integration process. The hosting perspective is: to preserve boundaries and maintaining the own identity. The guest perspective: adjusting, not being yourself and keeping distance.

2. A lecture of Betty Tjipta Sari, on Christian Asian Migrants in the Netherlands. About “Pastoral care among Christian Asian migrants in the Netherlands using integrated prayer in the counseling process”. An article on this was published in October in Pyche & Geloof. Anne Maria van Hilst Betty Tjipta Sari Stella van de Wetering It was about helping migrants to find their (ethnic and spiritual) identity through the counseling process and prayer integrated in the counseling process.

3. A lecture of Stella van de Wetering, on the history of Muslim migrants in the Netherlands. In her lecture she highlighted the history of migration in the Netherlands. How the new immigrants from Turkey and Morocco in the latest decennia of the 20th century entered the Netherlands. How their situation was and how as well they caused the Dutch locals to feel threatened in their identity, even though – except for some aspects – the Islamic and Dutch/Christian morals are in majority overlapping.

At the end of the lectures there was room for the participants to speak to each of the lecturers in small groups. In this way there was plenty of interaction in the groups. The lectures were very interesting and informative!

Diploma work

Report by one of the EPIL Participants.

In the evening we closed the day with the Diploma Work presentations of the Austrian and Dutch Team. The presentation of the Austrian team was about the subject ‘minority’. Every team member of the Austrian group told a personal story about being a minority. One of the team members told that when she was 7 years old, she found out that she was belonging to a minority. The parents of a neighboring girl, that were not evangelical, did not allow her to play with her because she was evangelical. It was really impressive to hear that not only women that belong to one special culture or religion can feel a minority but that it can happen to any woman despite her culture or religion. In the Austrian team there was quite some difference according to their ethnicity and religion. One for example was Austrian with a Protestant Christian background and another was Muslim with a Bosnian background.

Then the Dutch team started their presentations:

Sanna started. During her presentation she presented herself, her study the Master Spiritual Care and her job as a Spiritual Counsellor in a Nursing Home. She also presented the interreligious activities, that she encountered in those surroundings.

Hadiqa and Kristen had a joint presentation. They presented their expectations regarding EPIL and the final reality, that they had found. Time fell short and therefore the presentation of Sara was postponed until the next day.

The stories were inspiring and also recognizable for many of us. Somehow it is a pity that people tend to think in boxes and start to label others as a minority, but there is no need to feel ashamed because you are ‘different’ from the others. On the other hand interreligious practices can also be enriching.

You can reach a lot as long as you are prepared to go for it. That is the message we learned from these inspiring stories.

EPIL Friday, 23rd September 2022:

On the 23rd of September the EPIL program started with a breakfast and of course a morning program. It was decided that the ‘morning meditation’ would be moved to the afternoon.. In the morning the diploma work presentation of the last participant of the Dutch Team found place. The presentation of this participant was the terms ‘minority’ and ‘majority’. Her presentation was about her personal journey to whom she is today and where she is at this moment. The presentation was about how she embraced Islam and to which stream she reckoned herself. She told the story of Karbala. The core of her story was that she as a Dutch Woman found Islam and was following at first the Sunni Islam, but eventually chose to follow Shi`ism. Now her actual situation is that she is considered a minority as well in Dutch society as well as in the Islamic community.

Visiting the Open Air Museum in Arnhem

After the presentation we visited the Open Air Museum in Arnhem. The visit was planned in the frame of the theme of the EPIL module, in fact the cultural historical past of the Netherlands with a focus on the colonial past and immigration. In this light the visiting of the Moluccan barracks, the Indonesian yard and the stories told by the Spider Anansi, a storytelling tradition of the enslaved from Western Africa in Suriname and the Caribbean folklore were interesting.

The visit was an enrichment of our EPIL course and gave a good idea about how the Netherlands were in former centuries. After lunch and a picture of our group in the museum we went back to the priory.

There the Bosnian group presented their Diploma Work about the impact of the EPIL Course. The modules in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Netherlands The group consisted of four participants. They told about their personal development and how they experienced the EPIL Course. Each of them experienced a different development due to their backgrounds and earlier experiences. Vulnerability and openness were important topics.

Later in the afternoon, the ‘morning meditation’ of the Austrian group, that was skipped in the early morning, followed. During this ‘morning meditation’ the “Calling on God from different denominations“ was the central theme. We sang together, there was Quran recitation and we could choose cards from the 100 names of Allah. According to the cards that were chosen we discussed why we had chosen those specific cards.

One of the students said:

My choice was: Al Wadud (The Loving) and Al Ghafoor (The Forgiving). The reason for this choice was that God in my option and experience is the source of love. His love includes all love on earth. Besides God is the most Forgiving, how much sins we would ever commit, return to Him, and he will forgive.

Handing out of the EPIL Diplomas and Fare Well

Thereafter the diplomas were handed out individually. And there was a round, where everyone could tell about what she had learned and what she will miss after the end of this Dutch module. It was a beautiful and warm closing ritual.

In the evening there was room for saying goodbye together and also individually by writing in each other’s personal booklet. Presents were exchanged by the groups. The Dutch group handed out a goodie bag with typical Dutch candy as did the Austrian group. And of course the picture of all our EPIL participants in the Netherlands a beautiful fare well present and a very nice memory.

The end was coming, but before that some participants displayed a sketch in the framework of the Dutch module of the Fifth EPIL Course.


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