RETREAT   July 2nd – 5th 2019

This years edition of our Bearing Witness retreat here in Finland will take the participants to four different locations, a different site for each day. Finland has amazing conditions during the retreat as the nights are only few hours long in the summer. We will spend quite a bit of time in the nature meditating outdoors in the Island fortress of Suomenlinna and in the Civil War memorials, of which some are located deep in the forest. 

The retreat will take place this summer from July 2nd to 5th 2019. 

We offer a discount price for early birds until May 15th and we will also give scholarships for people coming from less affluent backgrounds. 

From July 2nd – 5th 2019, we’ll come together—from different countries, cultures, and religions—in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. From there we will proceed to different locations where the first concentration camps in Europe were established during the Finnish Civil War in 1918. This retreat in the spirit of the Three Tenets of the Zen Peacemakers is organized by the local affiliate group Peacemakers Finland to Bear Witness to the dreadful past, which is a largely untold part of the history of this peaceful country, and how it affected us all. 

Schedule: July 2nd – 5th 2019 
Main location: Helsinki, Finland

It has been over one hundred years since Finland was torn in half by two opposing forces, the Whites and the Reds. The brutal conflicts and mistreatment of the prisoners soon ended, but the legacy of this tragedy that claimed one per cent of the whole population has continued to this day. 

Over eleven thousand people died in the Prison Camps hastily established for the Red captives waiting for their trials. The poor maintenance and lack of supplies resulted in thousands of unnecessary deaths. These camps were guarded by Finnish and German officers, and often there were mass executions even for the women and children.

During this retreat we will explore what happens, when we fail “to see others as ourselves”, when we shut our eyes to the despair of others. That’s the danger of history repeating itself, when the whole process begins anew: children crying out for their parents, young boys killing their neighbors, people trying to recognize their missing loved ones from piles of unidentified corpses. 

By bringing local people together with international participants, we face the complexity that arises when we try to locate the “other” in ourselves. During this retreat we want to remember all the victims. Is there any distinction between the suffering of the victim and the perpetrator? What is the result of silencing the suffering of the victims? What is the result of the perpetrators rewriting history to hide their shame? Entering this complexity requires a lot of listening and acceptance. 

Although this tragedy took place one hundred years ago, Finland still bears the marks of those events. The memorials for the Red victims are located outside the city. The memorial for the Suomenlinna Prison Camp is almost impossible to find, although there were over 8,000 prisoners, of which over 1,500 died. 

We travel to these places to Bear Witness to what is not so long past, but to what resonates now. Against the backdrop of recent socio-political developments in Europe, this project takes on new meaning. Our attitude towards the recent civil wars around the world can change when we Bear Witness to our own history.

During the retreat we will bring a diverse group of people together and explore the different aspects of the conflict.

The retreat is organized by Peacemakers Finland, which is a Regional Affiliate group of the Zen Peacemakers International. Maija and Mikko Ijäs will serve as primary organizers will be the contact people for all participants.
Belgian Zen teacher Frank De Waele Roshi will be the Spiritual Director of the retreat. Finnish Lutheran priest Maika Vuori will serve as a local Spirit Holder of the retreat.