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A. van Buuren: Address to International Leadership Conference 2018

Address to International Leadership Conference 2018, Seoul, Korea, February 18-22, 2018

My name is Ari van Buuren from the Netherlands. Until recently I was chair of URI-NL. 

URI stands for United Religions Initiative. So yoU aRe I! Isn’t that wonderful?  Also I am retired head of the Interfaith Department of Spiritual Care at the University Medical Center Utrecht.

As for Reverend Moon so it is for me that the fight of Jacob with the angel and his reconciliation with his brother Esau is basic and essential. I experienced this as a hospital chaplain: 11 years in a psychiatric hospital and 14 years in a university medical center. 

The biblical story of Jacob, the angel and Esau centers on what Jacob says. First he says to the angel, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And some hours later, he says to Esau: “To see your face is like seeing the face of God.” This is full of beauty and blessing. It transcends hatred and war. It shows a new pattern of forgiveness and reconciliation. 


I am a citizen of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, a very secularized society. But my country also is a multireligious and multicultural society with 1 million Muslim and 1 million Christian migrants— – that means 2 million people in a total population of 17 million people.

An apt metaphor is “As the water flows: the riverbed leads the flow; the flow changes the riverbed.” 

Nevertheless we are still in danger of ethnic, religious or secular isolation with groups living in their own subcultures. How to facilitate breakthroughs as religious leaders?

Surprisingly our King Willem Alexander in his 2017 Christmas Speech on TV mentioned the exemplary world of the hospital. He emphasized that the only place where different people really meet each other now is in the hospital. 

As former hospital chaplain, I agree with my king. I learned that we are not hosting patients or refugees as our guests. No, we are guests in their lives. 

Yes, we are guests in each other’s lives. We are interdependent. Like Jacob, we can see the face of God in the face of the other. 

As religious leaders we should transmit this godly message over and over again! We are the midwives and bridge-builders for this turning! Celebrating the blessing of meeting each other is the essence. 

Jesus spoke about a “crusade” and Mohammed spoke about a “jihad”. They didn’t mean war and victory, but in the first place they meant the struggle against the power of the ego. 

So let us seize the opportunity to find our way out of the cocoon of woundings to that of wonderment. Let us leave deadly passions in favor of the amazing grace of godly compassion. Compassion is the common Golden Rule! 

Every religion and tradition has its own qualities. I experienced that religions are complementary. Jesus learns the power of love; Buddha learns the wisdom of love. 

So key words for blessing are interactionexchangecross-fertilization.

Yes: yoU aRe I.



To go to the International Leadership Conference Schedule 2018, click here.