Celebrating 20 Years of URI in the Netherlands with the Freedom, Peace, Friendship Festival

25 March 2020
URI Netherlands Group Shot

URI Netherlands group shot.

See an article in NieuwWij about 20 years of URI in the Netherlands.

Today, Saturday March 14, 2020, we should have been celebrating “URI-20-Years” as part of the URI Netherlands Vestijn – Vrijheid, Vrede, Vriendschap (Freedom, Peace, Friendship) Festival.

Unfortunately, we had to postpone our event until further notice because of the coronavirus.

However, this doesn’t prevent us from sharing a little of what we had planned. Our intention was to invite speakers, musicians, artists, and like-minded organisations to come and share their stories and their experiences in this ever-divided world. Our aim was to show not how divided we are, but how diverse we are.

Our keynote speaker was Jos Douma, who has recently been appointed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as “Special Envoy for Religion and Belief”(July 2019). When interviewed, he said, “As a special envoy, I focus on promoting freedom of religion and belief abroad. In addition, I encourage my colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to pay more attention to religion. We look at how governments and societies can work together with population groups that often make positive choices based on a clear philosophy of life; in this way they actively work for fellow human beings, nature and the universe.”

One of the reasons Ambassador Douma was invited was because representatives from URI Netherlands had participated in a Min. Foreign Affairs thinktank regarding “Freedom of Religion & Belief.” One of the recommendations from these meetings resulted in a motion being presented to the House of Representatives/ Tweede Kamer for the introduction of a “Special Envoy for Religion & Belief.” To our great surprise, the motion was carried and Jos Douma was appointed. We also wanted to show him how extensively URI and partner organisations are working in the Netherlands and abroad for “Freedom of Religion & Belief.”

URI National

One of our major partner organisations in the Netherlands is “Charter for Compassion” / “Handvest voor Compassie Nederland.”

Currently, we are working together towards establishing The Hague as a compassionate city. On February 3, 2020, the URI Cooperation Circle (member group) Interreligious Dialogue organised a meeting in Segbroek, the Hague to discuss how this could be achieved. Gerthe Lamers, who is the Chairwoman of the Dutch branch of the Charter for Compassion, wrote, “The principle of compassion or compassion underlies all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions; time and again it calls us to treat everyone else as we want to be treated ourselves.

Compassion is our drive to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to step back from the centre of our world and put another in the limelight, and to do justice to the inviolable holiness of all and treat everyone, without exception, with absolute dignity, fairness and respect."

URI and Charter for Compassion

URI and Charter for Compassion working together; Bart, Ton, Ad, & Morgana, Feb 3, 2020, the Hague.

One of the things we are trying to promote too is the value of working from an intergenerational perspective. Being open to the ideas and insights of both young and old can help us to see the bigger picture and provide answers to some of our questions.

One of our most senior speakers was pedagogue and theologian, Dr. Francien van Overbeeke, from the Trialogue Foundation.

She wrote, “The aim of the Trialogue Foundation is to stimulate the dialogue and trialogue between the Abrahamitic faith groups, Judaism, Christianity and Islam; with the emphasis on world peace, which depends on peace between religions.”

In a recent interview, she said: “Keeping such an interfaith fire burning is my passion. Because sometimes people recognize each other again in things like this. Life then suddenly seems to get a new dimension. Bottlenecks that you often experience then disappear into the background. Not that they are no longer there, but for a moment they bridge the differences that keep people apart, such as the confusion of divine assignments that you find in your Sacred Scripts, and human assignments that arise from your culture. At the same time, however, this motivates me to make interesting points for discussion: listening carefully to each other sometimes results in recognition and creates respect for each other's points of view.

The most important element is: loving the one God above all and your neighbour as yourself. For the sake of peace."

One of the most effective ways of bringing people together is music. Femke Bloem, harpist, Maya Fridman, cellist from Russia, and Farid Sheek, musician from Iran, were to have played at our ‘Vestijn’. Check them all out on YouTube.

Also providing a musical contribution were the youngsters from ISKCON/ Hare Krisha, the Hague, with a mantra for peace.

Madhavi and the youngsters from ISKCON, the Hague

Madhavi and the youngsters from ISKCON, the Hague.

URI International - Celebrating 20 Years of URI

Earlier this year, Salman Ezzammoury (URI NL) was in San Francisco and he visited the URI Global Office. There he interviewed Alice Swett, URI Director of Global Programs.

An interview with Alice L. Swett, URI Director of Global Programs, January 2020.

Samira Barucija, Regional Coordinator for the URI Multiregion, was planning on attending the 20th anniversary celebration, but was also affected by travel restrictions due to the coronavirus. She wrote, “Greetings everyone, now it's time to celebrate the achievements of the grassroots interfaith movement, the United Religions Initiative. We honour and celebrate the alliance of people of different religions, spirituals expressions, and Indigenous traditions made, and their decision to engage at the grassroots level in creating cultures of peace, justice and healing. After our moment of celebration, we need to focus on the way forward. For the URI Multiregion, the way forward is to energize our community, bring innovation to our work and ensure sustainable cooperation among groups of interfaith peacebuilders.”

Networking in India & Indonesia

A fervent traveller, and as URI Ambassador, Morgana Sythove has met a number of people connected to URI Cooperation Circles or people interested in the grassroots nature of URI. In October 2019, she took part in a “Travel To Tradition” visit to Indonesia. Organised by another of URI’s partners, The Aliran Foundation Netherlands, she met local artisans in Bali and Java. In the region of Jogjakarta, she met Josh and Fili, who run an eco-friendly homestay. They recycle waste and use sustainable materials. They collected plastic waste from a nearby river and used the plastic bottles to make “bricks” for the walls. They have also developed items for sale to reduce single-use plastic. One of the items is the reusable Bamboo Straw. Morgana was so impressed by their creativity that it was decided to order the straws, customised with the name URI Netherlands, and use them as a token of appreciation for donors.

bamboo straws

(Thanks to our donors!)

She also introduced Josh & Fili to the URI Environmental Network Cooperation Circle, and connected them with Abhirup Khan in Kolkata, India. Later when Morgana was in West Bengal in January 2020, there was much more networking, especially when it came to Cooperation Circles concerned with  environmental issues. See for more stories:

She also talked with a number of people abut the importance of “Freedom, Peace, Friendship,” which is another theme of our Festival. Here is Satarupa, of Palki Peace Circle, with her views:

Satarupa Addhya from Palki Peace CC, URI East India talking about Peace, Freedom & Friendship - January 2020.

Nearer to home, URI Netherlands (URI NL) works closely with URI Europe and in particular with Cooperation Circles in Bulgaria. Since 2012, there has been continuous contact with Fr. Petar Gramatikoff and Angelina Vladikova. In recent years, a Summer Youth Camp has been organised. Mala Wallage, URI NL, was going to give a presentation about the project “Youth Camp” and how it has encouraged young people to become more aware of social interaction and the importance of interfaith cooperation. Last year, she welcomed a group of youngsters from Bulgaria and she is now busy organising the “Youth Camp 2020” in the Hague.

Youth Camp – greetings from Scheveningen, July 2019

Youth Camp – greetings from Scheveningen, July 2019.

It is hoped that the coronavirus will not stop us from connecting. In fact, today more than ever, we need to be creative, inventive, and to stay positive.

 We look forward to meeting you all again in freedom, peace, and friendship.

Greetings from the Netherlands!

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