Historic Memories and Present Day Realities – Module III in Austria

Greetings and a prayer at Anglican Church with Rev Barbara Heyse Schaefer
EPIL participants gathered for Module III in Vienna

October 1 – 7, 2016
Vienna, Austria

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The third module of EPIL started on Oct 1st with wonderful, warm weather. The participants were welcomed with coffee and cake in the garden of the Don Bosco guest house in Vienna’s 13th district Hietzing.
There was a very cheerful and open atmosphere, though the ladies have only met in their national teams at their national modules in April 2016, since the first module in Istanbul about a year ago. A name game helped to remember each other’s names.

EPIL participants greeted with the words of peace

Then we went by public transport to the Anglican Church in the 3rd district, where the Austrian Iona group had prepared a prayer for peace. Rev. Aileen Hackl from the Anglican Church greeted the EPIL participants and some visitors from Vienna and led through the liturgy. Women from the Iona group and EPIL students read texts about peace from the bible and the Qur’an.
In her sermon, Rev. Barbara Heyse Schaefer reminded of the fact, that the Christian greeting: „Peace be with you“ and the Arabic „Salam Aleykum“ could be the first step to the perception and care for our neighbours. She encouraged the visitors of the service to come to terms with their own stories, the disappointments and hurts, because that is the pre-condition to make peace with others.
At the reception in the parish hall afterwards there was opportunity to talk to each other.


Sunday, October 2 2016

At 8am we start breakfast, which will be served every day from 7.30 am until 9am. Today we will leave directly after breakfast, with a touring car that will bring us to the hills of Vienna. We enjoy the view from the bus, as we pass a Jugendstil house and see Vienna from up the hills. While I would call these mountains, we understood that for Austrians these are only hills.
On top of the hills, there is a place called ‘Am Himmel’. We walk the last part up to Heaven and laugh as we can’t seem to find our way to Heaven. Alhamdolillah we finally find our way.

Morning meditation at the Celtic ring of planted trees

Our morning meditation will take place on this special location. There is a Celtic ring of planted trees, that all have a horoscopic meaning that tells about the characteristics of the certain date. While we all agree that horoscopes don’t really belong to our own beliefs, we still enjoy this special and calming place. And it is fun to find the tree that belongs to your own birthday or that of your beloveds. Considering the characteristics of the tree was special, they intertwine with their context and where they can and must persevere. In the morning meditation, Barbara and Lise took us to different trees and read passages from Bible and Quran in which the particular trees have a role.
It was a wonderful start!
We hop on the bus again and descend to the town of Vienna, where we continue the tour through the city ring and stop first at the memorial site of the victory of Jan Sobieski over the Ottomans. There is a great view of the city and we all take pictures. Astrid buys some roasted chestnuts and shares them with the group. Then we go to the Turkenschanzpark where we find a beautiful Turkish memorial, called the Yunus Emre well (brunn). It was a gift from the Turkish government to commemorate the shared past and to reconnect the nations. There is also a Cossacks monument in the park, for Ukrainian Cossacks that helped liberate Vienna from the Ottomans.

Visiting the Turkenschanzpark

We hop on the bus again and get a bus tour of a lot of important sights. Very nice, especially because it was raining, so seeing everything from inside the bus was perfect. What a beautiful historical city!
We’re dropped at the Afro Asian Institute, where we get served a delicious lunch. Meanwhile we all choose a group for the afternoon, when we will do a walking tour through town. It is difficult to choose, because everything sounds very attractive!
I chose to tour with Astrid through the first quarters. After a delicious Viennese coffee with Sachtertorte, we walked through the center, passing the synagogue and the St. Stephanskirche and from there on we go back to the subway, to the Don Bosco house.
During dinner in the Don Bosco house, we as the Dutch group, talk about our ‘oasis moments’ (moments we take to evaluate how everyone is doing) and we deliberate on how we will execute our task that evening, the evening on humor. We manage to think of a lot of things, but to perform it is something else…
Afterwards I understood that it was also possible to use general beautiful and uplifting texts from your religion, and not just comedy. But we manage to make some decisions and Joanne, Rita and Stella venture to crack some jokes tonight.
The night in the Kellerbar is very pleasant. A good start from our own trio, a wonderful sketch of the Bosnian ladies and a nice clown from the Austrian group and then the Turkish ladies wanted to close the night.


Opening topics for discussion

We only heard that they wanted to talk about the reason why there were only three of them. They started off with a joke, but then came the images of the coup. And the tears flowed. They talked about the fear, the fear for their kids and other beloved.
And about the confusion.
All of a sudden, all those emotions. We were very happy and grateful for their vulnerability, because it broke open what had been in the air. But it wasn’t easy, not for them and not for us, how to react. Stella beautifully and sweetly broke the silence with a hug. For us it might not always be easy to follow everything from their perspective, even if we really want to.
The Bosnian ladies felt the hit even more; they know…
But altogether we gained trust in each other, our relationship is strengthened.
Dutch group

Monday, October 3 2016

We started with a morning meditation. The theme was: The ways, which led us into our day. The theological texts, the physical exercise (to lead somebody, who is blind) und paper-made footsteps with different questions or statements on them made the group thoughtful.

Dr. Valeria Heuberger gives a lecture on The Perception of the Ottoman Sieges of Vienna and of the Turks in Austria today

The first speech: „The Perception of the Ottoman Sieges of Vienna and of the Turks in Austria today. Overview and analysis“ done by Dr. Valeria Heuberger, depicted  e.g. to which extent history is misused nowadays by political ideologies and how fear is continuously fuelled by it; she also exemplified, how enemy images are kept alive easily, transferred to other situations and new enemy images are created. Fear of another religion, another culture – of „the stranger“ reveals the same pattern since Ottoman times up to refugees nowadays. Especially memorable was the (in Austria) well known photo of flag-waving Turkish people at a demonstration on „Heldenplatz“ in the city of Vienna. The statue of prince Eugen there, though being the commander who defeated the Ottomans!, was surrounded by them.
The afternoon started with a review on the contents of the national modules, which altogether dealt with the book „Towards a Pedagogy of Religious Diversity“.
After that, Dr. Reinhild Traitler, one of the publishers and founders of EPIL, held a speech, titled „Towards a Hermeneutics of Empathy“. Her contribution ended with the request to keep on steadily with an intensive interreligious dialogue.
In smaller groups we looked for conflict laden topics and tried to work on one in a role play. By doing so, we tried a debate.
After dinner we enjoyed an evening off.
Astrid, Johanna, Yalda

Tuesday, October 4 2016

The day started with the morning mediation prepared by the Turkish group. The EPIL participants received randomly sayings of Jalaludin Rumi and they were then invited to participate in a sema exhibition (spiritual dance of Dervishes).
Then the participants were divided into three groups. The first group visited the General Hospital of Vienna and its chaplaincies. The second group visited a Lutheran and a Muslim cemetery whereas the third group visited an Islamic school on Social issues.

Visiting Islamic school on Social issues

After lunch all EPIL participants got together to reflect upon their morning activities. The group who visited the school informed us that students at the age of 13 or 14 can join the school, which although it has some male students, it has predominantly female students. The profile is mixed ethnically and religiously, i.e. there are Muslim and Christian students who speak fifteenth different languages. The medium of education though is Austrian German. One of the main objectives of the school is to improve the linguistic abilities of the students who in most cases do not have a good command of German. Thus, German is taught more intensively than in other Austrian, hoping that this would increase the level of participation of the schools’ graduates.
Those visiting Europe’s largest hospital were mesmerised with the sheer size of it and the variety of its various chaplaincies. What makes this service unique is that for almost all monotheistic religious there are two volunteers, a man and a woman that are properly trained to help people through illness and loss. Another unique feature is the wall painting for stillborn babies. This is part of the process of mourning allowing families to come to terms with such a loss. Relatives place a pearl to the painting to commemorate and overcome grief.
Turkish Group

Wednesday, October 5 2016

The fifth day of the EPIL module started with a morning meditation of the Dutch group. The meditation was very touching. All the members lay on the ground while forming a circle and thought of a moment in which they had felt fear. After that everybody got a piece of paper with crayons to write/draw down the emotions they felt. This was a perfect way to deal with emotions, positive and negative ones.
After the morning meditations, we went to the city; when we arrived there (at the St. Stephen’s Cathedral) we formed three groups, to visit different quarters of Vienna in the 1st and 2nd district. The participants were given the task to go around and take pictures of interesting things in the city connected to the history of Vienna and its multi-religious heritage. Two groups went into the Jewish quarter. After 2 hours of walking and photographing, the group got a guided tour in St. Stephen’s Church and we had lunch. The presentations after lunch with the morning’s photos were very informative and went very well. We had the chance to learn more about the Austrian history and its religious minorities.

After the presentation, the group went to the Afro-Asiatic Center for dinner. After dinner, there was a panel discussion with three women of different religious backgrounds. A Christian, Jewish and Muslim woman discussed what religions can contribute to peace. A short summary on the panel discussion.

Panelists: Sarah Egger, Gabriele Kienesberger and Eva Kepplinger

Sarah Egger: In the Jewish religion, it’s good to feel ‘unsettled’ at times. You lose your peace to step back and contemplate about your life, in this way the need for inner peace gets bigger and enables you to search for it. Sara says: “You lose your peace in order to be more at peace with yourself.” When you are at peace with yourself, spreading peace will be easier. Another important thing is communication. Peace cannot be spread if there is no proper communication between people. Talking and addressing problems and finding a solution together is key for creating peace among people. Sara ended her presentation by quoting an old Jewish saying: “The world stands on three things; Torah, prayer and good deeds.”

Panel Discussion at the Afro-Asiatic Center

Gabriele Kienesberger: Gabriele, who is a Roman-Catholic, starts by saying that peacebuilding should be the primary purpose in all religions. And the ones who are responsible for this are the religious leaders. She also says that reconciliation between people brings along justice and peace. She ended her presentation with one final word; Barmherzigkeit (English translation of the word: a higher form of mercy). According to Gabriele, Barmherzigkeit is important to live in a peaceful way together.


Eva Kepplinger: Eva said that in Islam you must seek for peace on three levels. An individual level, community level and an universal level. You must be at peace with yourself first, in order to spread peace to the people close to you. The word ‘salaam’ which translates as ‘peace’ is very important in Islam. It’s one of the 99 names of God (Allah) and it’s also part of the Islamic greeting “As-salaam aleikum” which translates as “may peace be upon you”. This shows that peace is indeed the essential part of Islam.

Differences should not be an obstacle for living together in peace, Eva says. Diversity is a thing mentioned in the Koran, for example in verse 13 chapter 49. God created diversity so that people should get to know each other and respect each other despite their differences. Eva ends her presentation by saying: “Religion is my personal drive, motivation and source to do good and contribute to society in a positive way”.
Dutch group

Thursday, October 6 2016

The sixth day of the module in Austria started with the meditation of the Bosnian group. Afterwards Dr. Ursula Rapp and Dr. Lise Abid presented Qur’anic and Biblical studies with a focus on violence. From the Christian perspective, Dr. Ursula Rapp explained that in the wholly texts there is a lot of violence performed as a part of fighting back oppression but also violence performed by God. From the Islamic perspective, Dr. Lise Abid, pointed to several versus in the Quran those explain that Muslim are only allowed to defend them selves when attacked. Unfortunately, very often these verses are misused to justify violent and extreme acts. After the lectures the discussion took place on how we as individuals can contribute to peace building processes and on which level of action we can work because very often the wars and conflicts are made and decided upon on a political level.

EPIL participants visiting Sultan Ahmet’s mosque

After the lectures, EPIL participants visited the Sultan Ahmet’s mosque. The participants were greeted and hosted by the members of the women’s association “Hassen” who also prepared lunch for all. After lunch, the members of the association presented their work which is primarily focused on humanitarian work, education – literacy in Arabic language etc. EPIL participants had a tour around the mosque and afterwards talked with the Imam of the Sultan Achmet’s mosque. The Imam presented and explained the content of the mosque which is the second biggest mosque in Vienna as well as that the mosque gathers Muslims of all nationalities not only Turks.
The EPIL participants, after visiting the mosque, had the opportunity to experience the rest of the day on a typical Viennese market and to buy things for the dance night organized in the evening in Don Bosco House.

Evening of traditional music, dance and food

During the dance night, all countries (Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Netherlands and Turkey) presented their traditional dances with active participation of all. At the end the Bosnian group made the official invitation to EPIL module IV in Bosnia and Herzegovina that will take place in May 2017 in Sarajevo, Tuzla, Srebrenica and Zenica.
Bosnian team

Friday, October 7 2016

In a detailed feedback-round, there was again a possibility to review the Viennese module. The participants complimented on the balanced program and heartily atmosphere, which made it possible for the new EPIL student quickly, to become a member of the group.
At the closing ritual, the Austrian facilitators stressed that the colourfulness and variety being the richness of EPIL and that this beauty of colours are volitional by God. Afterwards all could paint these colours on a silk scarf.
The program ended with a blessing.

The ways, which led us into our day.

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