The altar in Prabhupada-Desh, our temple in Venice, Italy
I haven’t written this journal for two weeks now due to being very busy with organisation and travelling. From the 9th-14th I was in Venice, Italy for our European Leaders Meeting and my preparation for that took three days. I was finishing a detailed agenda for the conference; arranging slide shows and evening presentations. Around 45 delegates were coming from all over the EU and I wanted to make their four days in Italy lively and rewarding.
So the Vaishnavas travelled from our communities in Norway, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Croatia, Slovenia, England and Italy. Our venue was the impressive former monastery on a hill in Vicenza, an hours drive from Venice. Surrounded by vineyards and bathed in the late summer sun, it was an excellent place to hold a thoughtful series of discussions. Last year we were here also.
The local devotees provided great hospitality. Prasadam was delicious Italian cooking served with enthusiasm and affection. Accommodation was very quiet and comfortable, with plenty of space to walk and some striking views.
Our first day focused on educational needs in ISKCON. We reviewed what educational materials we needed to help someone coming to Krishna consciousness right through to higher studies, and whether our philosophy was adequately represented in all the major languages of Europe. Apparently ISKCON’s books in Icelandic are a rather good read.
A self-assessment form for our own ongoing education was the subject of some minutes of quiet contemplation. The afternoon session included time for the issue of succession; identifying future leaders and arranging for their training.
The second day was designated as ‘Social Development day.’ The international GBC body has created several committees for year-round discussion of important issues. We were taking some themes from these to push forward the dialogue. Hence our first day’s focus on education. The GBC Constitutional Committee has raised some questions concerning membership rights and responsibilities and so our discussion was on certain aspects of this broad subject.
As I was chairman I offered an introduction to the subject of social development within ISKCON and showed a powerpoint to the members. There ensued a discussion on the different lifestyles and categories of membership which comprise today’s ISKCON. Later on, we talked of the need for temples and restaurants to support production on the movement’s 14 farms in Europe through purchase of produce.
Our third day began with all the good news from around the EU. And there was lots of it. I had asked everyone to forward some digital photos of their news and to bring posters and publications; it made a great display and an inspiring slide show. Paris, France was specially noted for the new house due to be converted for use as a temple by next Spring. Situated just fifteen minutes from the city centre, it represents a great turnaround for our movement in the region. Greece was also worthy of applause; after so many years of opposition by the Greek Orthodox Church, and due to new EU laws, we are finally allowed to register ourselves there as a ‘house of prayer.’
A presentation on the state of our farming communities within the EU made for sobering listening. Although Srila Prabhupada wanted the temples to all buy produce from our own farms, the heavy subsidy of farming in Europe means that most Vaishnavas can, and do, buy vegetables and milk from other sources at a fraction of the cost.
Germany’s slow recovery from recent misfortunes and their plans for gradual revival were presented. The assembled devotees applauded the German devotees for their determination.
Our fourth day was solely devoted to ‘Sadhu Sangha’ which in our case meant a trip to Venice for the perfect Harinam Sankirtan. Chanting with 70 Vaishnavas in the sunshine, through mediaeval city streets, great acoustics, no traffic, surrounded by water, fresh breezes, and eager tourists to listen, clap and sing and dance along with us made Venice into Kirtan Heaven. And the sense of being in heaven continued as we came back to Vicenza for home-made Italian ice cream in a variety of unusual flavours.
You can catch a flavour of what it was like by going to:
although this is an evening event during the Venice Carnival.
I returned home to more meetings at the weekend. Our Congregational Council met on Sunday morning, and our Travelling Preachers gathered in the afternoon.
Today, of course, has been a wonderful celebration of Radhastami, the Appearance Day of Srimati Radharani. I gave class on the webcam to around 25 devotees and then attended an excellent class at the Bhaktivedanta Manor given by Gauri Das. The abhisheka, the ceremonial bathing of the Deities, was very special. I felt privileged to be able to offer the first oil, sandalwood paste, and sesame seed paste before pouring the first conch-shell of milk for Radha and Krishna. The kirtan and bathing went on for almost two hours.
And that, dear readers, brings you up to date.