A Divine word missionary, Fr.Dr.Avin Kunnekkadan SVD is working for international students in the Netherlands. I shall share my personal mission experience as an international student chaplain in the university campus. I hope that my sharing will help you to get some insight into international student chaplaincy mission (ISC) which for many students is a place of hope and a home away from home.
As a student Chaplain I am convinced that our towns and cities need spiritually healthy individuals if they are to flourish. A recent research project a student undertook in the UK which looked into spirituality of the young people argues that if towns and cities are to continue to grow and develop as places fit for human habitation they need spiritually healthy individuals. City life can be the place where most of the international students feel alone and isolated and lonely. Realizing the pastoral and missionary needs of the international students, Rotterdam diocese has appointed Fr. Dr. Avin Kunnekkadan SVD as university chaplain to work in UNESCO IHE water management Institute Delft, International institute of Social studies Delft, TU Delft University and Rotterdam Erasmus University.
In Europe traditional church service alone cannot fulfill the needs of the spiritually seeking young people. Chaplaincy is a place where many young people find nourishment for their spiritual life journey. Youth spirituality is like an underground stream flowing beneath our ordinary work yet this stream is rarely noticed by all. It keeps flowing but the life giving waters are not utilized or directed into the dry places of culture of seeking young people. The youth are hungry for spiritual food which can nourish them in their low times. It is a deep need and a cry from their heart. Keeping the needs of the students as a priority the ISC serves the students with Sunday Eucharistic celebration, bible study, inter-religious dialogue training programmes, personal counseling and visits, mediation and yoga sessions. Often the programme starts with an evening meal. The chaplaincy missionary service has helped to create safe, emotional, psychological and spiritual space where students can be heard and their stories, struggles and challenges are interpreted sensitively. For more details you can visit our website www.iscnetherlands.nl
“From crisis to hope” was the theme of a National Interfaith Conference that I organized in the International Institute of Social studies the Hague. The conference highlighted the dynamics of crisis that all of us face. There is an economic crisis, a financial crisis, a faith crisis and an ecological crisis which we all face.
In particular students are affected by the economic crisis. Some cannot continue their studies as their families who supported them are hit by the economic crisis. Others who had been working to support themselves don’t easily find a job any more next to their studies. During this year we were confronted with natural disasters and crisis, an earth quake in Haiti, floods in Pakistan, drought in Northern Kenya to mention but a few.
Students tell me often about their first hand experience of disasters in their home land and we all ask ourselves how far our human behaviour causes and worsens the climate change. There are many situations of conflict and crisis in our world in the Middle East, in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America and in Europe. Many conflicts have been going on for decades and some of our students grew up in countries which were never at peace and in harmony with their neighbours, for instance students from Palestine, from Colombia etc. In their personal lives students can suddenly come into a crisis, when they have to deal with physical sickness or emotional problems, when a relationship is broken, when the study results are not sufficient.
In my work as chaplain I am aware of the many crises which challenge the lives of students. It is often said that every crisis implies a chance an opportunity to let go the old way of doing things to dare to take new steps in life. As a divine word missionary, I am convinced that I am called to be an agent of hope. The apostle Paul assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of God, no crisis whatsoever in our global world or in our personal life. Maybe the situations of crisis in our lives can make us more open to experience God’s presence in our lives. In our many fold activities about which you can read in this annual report we try to nourish the flame of hope which burns in the hearts of young people who have come from other parts of the world to study in the Netherlands.
They hope that a Dutch diploma will help in their career. They hope that the academic knowledge will make them better professional in various fields of their research. They hope that the exposure to other cultures and world views will broaden their horizon. They hope after completing their studies they can contribute to a sustainable and just development of their countries. They hope that they can make this world a better place for their children to live in.
In my missionary work as an international student chaplain I see a lot of hopeful signs in the world and my ministry: In the past I was able to bring Christians of different denominations to pray and worship together, non-Christians were called to give a message to Christmas on the eve of Christmas, Christians students prepared food for the Islamic Id-ul-Fitr. Further now, I being a contact pastor in Maasluis.Vlaardingen and Schiedam good shepherd church the students have an opportunity to have more contact with local parish activities and parishes. We are trying to build bridges between cultures and people and languages. It gives me great fulfillment to be a missionary in the university campus giving the needed help and orientation to the intellectual community.
I am deeply touched when Dutch families who open their homes for foreigners to make them feel at home. Every year there are more than 8000 international students who come to the Netherlands to peruse their higher studies. SVD NEB province has given a priory in serving the needs of the international students following the charism of Internationality and keeping in mind the faith orientation of the intellectual community.