Villagers in a Dutch town are finding new ways to practise their faith and traditions… just now with members of a new Buddhist temple, after the local Catholic church sold up.

Driving the news

Michiel van de Kamp from the Katholiek Nieuwsblad told the interesting story in Crux of the residents of the village of Afferden, who have had to learn to live with Buddhist monks as neighbours.

Go deeper

Two years ago authorities in the Diocese of Den Bosch began the process of consolidating the local parish of St. Francis and St. Clara, closing three village churches but sparing one, in Afferden’s neighbouring town of Druten.

Those in charge were faced with the question of what to do with the empty temples.

Neighbours had some ideas, but “they did not meet the strict guidelines of the diocese and financially speaking were not sound. Then there is not much left for us to do”, explained Ton Perlo, vice-president of the parish board.

Eventually the parochial authorities received an offer out of left-field: from the Buddhist Dhammikaya movement from Thailand, which was interested in buying the Afferden church.

“That was a tricky one. Church guidelines do not allow non-believers [non-Christians] to buy a church”, recalled Perlo.

Fortuitously enough, as it turns out, the Afferden parishioners convinced the Den Bosch diocese to make an exception for the Buddhists.

“An exception was made in this case because there were no other buyers. What weighed heavily in this case was the fact that a new party came in that corresponded with the function of the church”, explained Freek van Genugten, policy officer of the Diocese of Den Bosch.

Both Perlo and van Genugten celebrated that although the Afferden church can’t now be put to Catholic use, at least it can be put to a spiritual one.

“It remains a spiritual building. It’s better to have Buddhists in it than apartments”, Perlo rejoiced.

Why it matters

Two years into their new home, the Buddhist monks haven’t disappointed the Den Bosch diocese, both thanks to their integration into the community and the spiritual wisdom they provide.

Even the former parish priest of Afferden, Father Gerard van Hoofd, is pleased with the church’s new occupants, whom he said “invest a huge amount of time and energy in the village, and put a lot of effort into being known and seen”.

“The Buddhists are friendly people and already completely accepted by the villagers. I am happy that the church is still being used by people who have its best interest at heart”, local man Mark van Dinteren added.

As for Venerable Monk Sander Oudenampsen, one of the Afferden temple’s new residents, he’s happy too with the arrangement in the town, which he says is “quiet” and “ideal for meditation”.

Taking on the “pastoral task of a Catholic monk”, Oudenampsen says he often walks around the village, responding from his tradition to people’s search for meaning and the ‘bigger things’ in life.

Oudenampsen, too, said he sees important similarities between Christianity and Buddhism.

“They’re both focused on prayer, on meditation. That’s also what I hear from the people who visit the meditation evenings”, the Buddhist monk explained.

For the record

Local man Van Dinteren said even though he personally isn’t taking up Buddhism, he considers the presence of the monks to be enriching to the town and its Catholic residents, who are continuing to keep up with their traditions without Masses.

“The Catholic traditions are not likely to disappear in Afferden anytime soon, you know”, Van Dinteren explained.

“Even if the church is closed, we do find ways to practice our faith. The traditions will certainly continue to exist. But in our own way”, the Afferden resident pledged.

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