A major part of noviciate life and formation is what we call ‘experiments’. These are basically longer periods of time in which you’ll get more experience in the Jesuit way of life. This includes first of all maintaining a life according to the vows of poverty, obedience and chastity as well as maintaining that ever important personal relationship with Christ. These experiments usually take place within one of the works of the Society of Jesus. These include a whole wide range of works like schools, parishes but also social projects and helping the poor: simply put working for social justice.
I was sent to Amsterdam, to a community called ‘Spe Gaudentes’, or better known in Amsterdam as Oudezijds 100. Strangely enough I had no clue of what I was going to do there. This place was recommended by a Jesuit living in Amsterdam but neither I nor my novice master knew exactly what it was. Only on my first day after my arrival in Amsterdam I knew what it was, this however was accompanied by a surprise, namely that it was located in the middle of the ‘Red Light District.’ What provokes pity is that you see women behind glass windows, and men going in, leaving you wondering ‘why’. The community itself was extremely welcoming and it made me feel home quite fast, which was a relief because I was going to live there for five weeks. Oudezijds 100 was founded by one couple in the sixties, who were both protestant ministers. Initially they wanted to go to the missions in Africa but they saw that the need in the Netherlands was also very great. They got a house in Amsterdam, in the Red Light District and started to take care of those on whom life had been tough, for instance homeless people. There were real problems concerning drugs, sex and violence in those days. Nowadays the problems are not as great anymore but that doesn’t mean there are none at all. But their way of living started to attract other people and not much later a community was born, both ecumenical and caring in origin. It seems to me that the current community there holds on to that original charism. Nowadays the community consists of a core group of four families who took lifelong vows to commit themselves to each other. They are surrounded by an army of volunteers and people who are orientating to this way of life. Together they still serve social justice. Over the course of time their premises grew from one to six buildings, making it possible to set up a ‘supported living programme’ for those who are in need of help. Then there is also the fact that they open their doors to the homeless every morning, providing them with coffee and company. In total the community consists of about 80 members, and I lived with them.
On the lintel above the door in the entrance there is a sentence in French saying: ‘all who enter are sent by God.’ This very much captures my experience there. I met a lot of different people in those 5 weeks, with a lot of different backgrounds, beliefs, opinions, ways of living and troubles. Yet all who enter are met with the same kindness. As Saint Ignatius would put it, there is a good spirit at work there. At the same time it’s a challenge in accepting that phrase to be true. Almost naturally there are people you like more or sympathise with more but at the same time you know that God is with everyone and that, as a novice, you are send to everyone.
Once more would I like to thank all the members and volunteers at Oudezijds 100 who made my time there such a great and learning full experience!