God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

Thoughts, inside, comments of a Catholic priest

Christian Unity – a sermon to listen to

I know, lots of sermons are boring, old-fashioned and definitive to long. But there are indeed exceptions and I would like to share one with you all: It’s a Catholic sermon at an Anglican event speaking about reformation – it almost sounds like a contradiction, but Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Preacher to the Papal Household, was invited to a Eucharist celebration in Westminster Abbey, London, on Tuesday 24 November 2015. The event marked the inauguration of the 10th General Synod of the Church of England and the sermon was indeed short and sweet, but powerful and leading the way to the possibility of a unified diversity of Christian Churches. Addressing the Queen and the whole Synod, Fr Raniero Cantalamessa reflected on the preparations for the fifth centenary of the Protestant Reformation saying the following:

Rebuild my house – Haggai 1:1-8
Few prophetic oracles in the Old Testament can be dated so precisely as that of Haggai, which we have just heard in the first reading. We can place it between August and December in the year 520 BC. The exiles, after the deportation to Babylon, have come back to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. They set to work, but soon grow discouraged, each preferring to work on his own house instead. Into this situation comes the prophet Haggai, sent by God with the message we have heard.
The Word of God, once it is proclaimed, remains forever alive; it transcends situations and centuries, each time casting new light. The situation deplored by the prophet is renewed in history each time we are so absorbed in the problems and interests of our own parish, diocese, community – and even of our particular Christian denomination – that we lose sight of the one house of God, which is the Church.
The prophecy of Haggai begins with a reproof, but ends, as we heard, with an exhortation and a grandiose promise: “Go up into the hills, fetch timber and rebuild the House, and I shall take pleasure in it and manifest my glory there” – says the Lord”.
One circumstance makes this point particularly relevant. The Christian world is preparing to celebrate the fifth centenary of the Protestant Reformation. It is vital for the whole Church that this opportunity is not wasted by people remaining prisoners of the past, trying to establish each other’s rights and wrongs. Rather, let us take a qualitative leap forward, like what happens when the sluice gates of a river or a canal enable ships to continue to navigate at a higher water level.
The situation has dramatically changed since then. We need to start again with the person of Jesus, humbly helping our contemporaries to experience a personal encounter with Him. “All things were created through him and for him”; Christ is the light of the world, the one who gives meaning and hope to every human life – and the majority of people around us live and die as if He had never existed! How can we be unconcerned, and each remain “in the comfort of our own paneled houses”? We should never allow a moral issue like that of sexuality divide us more than love for Jesus Christ unites us.
We need to go back to the time of the Apostles: they faced a pre-Christian world, and we are facing a largely post-Christian world. When Paul wants to summarize the essence of the Christian message in one sentence, he does not say, “I proclaim this or that doctrine to you.” He says, “We preach Christ crucified” (1 Cor 1:23), and “We preach . . . Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor 4:5). This is the real “articulus stantis et cadentis Ecclesiae”, the article by which the Church stands or falls.
This does not mean ignoring the great theological and spiritual enrichment that came from the Reformation or desiring to go back to the time before it. It means instead allowing all of Christianity to benefit from its achievements, once they are freed from certain distortions due to the heated atmosphere of the time and of later controversies.
Justification by faith, for example, ought to be preached by the whole Church—and with more vigor than ever. Not in opposition to good works – the issue is already settled – but rather in opposition to the claim of people today that they can save themselves thanks to their science, technology or their man-made spirituality, without the need for a redeemer coming from outside humanity. Self-justification! I am convinced that if they were alive today this is the way Martin Luther and Thomas Cranmer would preach justification through faith!
Unity is not a simple matter. One has to start with the big Churches, those that are well structured, putting together that which unites them, which is vastly more important than what divides them; not imposing uniformity but aiming at what pope Francis calls “reconciled diversities”. Nothing is more important than to fulfill Christ’s heart desire for unity expressed in today’s gospel. In many parts of the world people are killed and churches burned not because they are Catholic, or Anglican, or Pentecostals, but because they are Christians. In their eyes we are already one! Let us be one also in our eyes and in the eyes of God.
The Anglican Church has a special role in all of this. It has often defined itself as a “via media” (a Middle Way) between Roman Catholicism and Reformed Christianity. From being a “via media” in a static sense, it must now become more and more a via media in a dynamic sense, exercising an active function as a bridge between the Churches. The presence among you of a priest of the Catholic Church, in circumstances of such special significance, is a sign that something of the kind is already happening.
Let us conclude by returning to the text of Haggai. After the people of Israel, in obedience to the prophet’s invitation, had returned with renewed fervour to the task of rebuilding the temple, God sent His prophet again, this time with a message full of hope and consolation:
“But take courage now, Zerubbabel – it is the Lord who speaks -, courage, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, high priest; courage, all you people of the country – it is the Lord who speaks. To work! I am with you, the Lord of hosts declares; and my Spirit is present among you. Do not be afraid!” (Hg 2, 4-5).
Zerubbabel was the political leader at the time, and Joshua the religious leader. I believe that the Lord wanted me to be among you today, above all to tell you that He is addressing this same message to you, at the inauguration of your Synod and also in view of the meeting planned for next January between the leaders of the entire Anglican communion: “Take courage, Your Majesty, Sovereign of this nation, courage, Justin, Archbishop of Canterbury, courage Sentamu, Archbishop of York, courage, you bishops, clergy and laity of the Church of England! To work, because I am with you. Says the Lord!”
Source: http://www.anglicannews.org/news/2015/11/rebuild-my-house-sermon-to-the-general-synod-of-the-church-of-england-by-father-raniero-cantalamessa.aspx


Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Religion and Ethics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sick and tired of violence

Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Central African Republic, Ukraine, Yemen, Palestine and Israel – the news of violence, war and terror is a permanent feature on all news channels and I realize fatigue is setting in watching and zipping to all those channels with news seemingly to be for years the same.
Paris, Bamako – lock down in Brussels – and waiting for the next hit – around the world travel warning from the US and the discussions about sacrificing our freedoms fought for over long periods seems to head into a new direction of Orwell’s 1984 and even moreSouth Africa – #feesmustfall of the students means meanwhile arson, violence, destruction – almost hundred attempted murders per day in South Africa, from which are half successful. The taxi mafia continues to rule the streets and create havoc – service delivery protests can’t be without violence and damage anymore and whoever wants to take a drive on the national road N2 between Cape Town and Somerset West must be on the watch out – even police officers are not exempt falling victim of violence.
Coming back to the big world again – happy bombing from France – revenge for Paris, together with Russia and David Cameron can’t wait to extend his military reach in the Middle East – together with the continues and relentless extra-legal killings via drones – another permanent of this year’s news – especially when collateral damage means that unfortunately innocent people are killed too.
And as this would not be enough blood shed the state sponsored killings in the USA and Saudi-Arabia, but also not to forget in Indonesia and in other places seems to pick up again – another example that the capacity of governments and people to exercise respect for the sanctity of life degrades in the moment.

I must admit that I am in the moment sick and tired of all the violence on so many levels. Trying to get into the spirit of Advent as a Christian even worsens the situation as it becomes painfully clear how much we are away from the hope of Advent as the preparation of welcoming somebody in the world we see as the Prince of Peace and the messenger of unconditional love to all creation.
It seems that the new lonely caller in the wilderness we hear from in the bible changed his name from John the Baptist to Pope Francis amongst some other religious leaders . His travel this week to the war-thorn region of the Central African Republic with all the unknown and the danger would be a sign, that there might be other ways to answer violence and brutality than with weapons and violence.

But would that also be possible with ISIS or Daesh? Is there another way than throwing bombs?

I am convinced that bombings are not the answer, but that there are other strategies more promising to end this evil:
For example to acknowledge that there is a steady stream of unhappy Europeans following the call of ISIS and if we really want to root out such extremism we have to start in the suburbs of Paris, of Brussels, of Hamburg, of all the major cities in the USA. We have indeed to battle for the minds and the hearts of those feeling that they are not part of our society. Secondly let’s stop fulling the war in this region with selling weapons to “rebels” and other those, in the moment seemingly on the right side of history – in Afghanistan and Iraq history has thought us that the right side of history can quickly turn into the wrong one – ask the CIA which actually made Bin-Laden the person he became later on. Or Saddam Hussein, who was bolstered first to fight the revolution in Iran before falling out with the USA. Do we never learn out of mistakes?
Bombing, killing, extra-juridical killing by drones – it all creates an environment where people from ISIS will indeed flock together and new terrorists and suicide bombers are created on a daily base. The sad story of Israel and Palestine shows how the devils circle of violence never stops until somebody breaks it. And I am convinced to stop ISIS to gain more territory and cutting them off from the oil trade or trade of antiques will dry them out – cut them of the honor to connect them with  religion or Islam by getting the Umma to simply distance themselves – I am quite sure it will help to make this self-proclaimed caliphate a footnote of history in short time.

And let’s recognize and acknowledge that the wealth of Europe has its base in the exploitation of the African continent and the European colonies worldwide – and that they owe the people in Africa, in South America and where ever all the empires stretched for longer or shorter periods of time. Lots of country borders have been drawn on paper and without looking at situation. Lots of governments and dictators came into power because – at that time –   they either belonged to the anti-communist quarters or the other way around. We still haven’t worked it through – and we still are tempted to continue to make the same mistakes again and again. European governments judge not fairly but whatever suits best the Western World – they don’t have the focus on uplifting the people worldwide but what gives them more profit and fosters the lifestyle, Europe and North America wants to keep as long as possible. Let’s be honest: the conviction that we have to develop a new world order, a new way of dealing with each other is still in the infancy of the conscience of human civilization. We have conquered the technology but the rest lacks behind.

Advent – new beginning – may the feeling of being sick and tired of violence turn into a new approach of making the world a more peaceful place on all levels of life – a life to be called to live to the fullest.

Filed under: Africa, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I am not praying for Paris?

Another day of terror and bloodshed, another day splitting opinions about how to react besides mourning the death. Reading the statements of local academic Professor Farid Esack I actually have to hold my breath. He writes in a Facebook post: “I am not praying for Paris; I am not condemning anyone. Why the hell should I? I had nothing to do with it,” and continues “I am sickened by the perpetual expectations to condemn. I walk away from your shitty racist and Islamophobic expectations that whenever your chickens come home to roost then I must feign horror.”

I honestly don’t think this is the way to comment on a tragedy killing innocent people – it is an insult to those suffered the loss of a loved one, but on the other hand it shows a pattern clearly visible in a lot of statements and talks about acts of terror, about the rise of ISIS and the Muslim faith: A toxic mix of emotions and perceived facts, intermingled in a way not helpful at all to see through the factual side of what happens in the moment. This mix, felt by most bystanders and those having lost loved ones is played with quite heavily by those in power, by politicians and fundamentalists and those trying to create havoc and push their own agenda and ideology without counting the losses.

So how to untangle this mix?

Firstly – and this is directly addressed to Prof Farid Esack: I am sickened if you don’t condemn barbaric acts of terror – you don’t have to feign horror – because it is horror. Realize your sensitivity on real or perceived Islamophobic attitudes and acknowledge that as a Muslim Scholar, you have to deal with it. And “it” means you have to deal not only with perceptions but with the question how Islam is connected to violence in our days and how those developing and studying the doctrine and the teaching of Islam define the relationship between violence, statehood and faith. There are dozens of open questions and you can’t hide behind politics. You are part of the Ummah which has to distance itself clearly from all forms of violence and acts of terror.

Secondly – yes, there is the level of politics and there the West has to come to the party: With the unlawful war in Iraq we seeded what we now reaping. And if there is a human justice in place, people like Georg Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld initiating not only war but terror, torture and renditions should face the music in a court of international law together with Tony Blair and others.  We continue to earn money with weapons delivered readily to fuel the war in Syria, we bomb a country to its knees like Libya and then let it run its own destruction – the West is two-faced and ambivalent when it comes to those questions. There is a lot the West, you are accusing has to account for.

Thirdly – again yes, it was the West introducing the word “war” in a very unconventional way – the “war on terror” created by President Georg W Busch is the mother of lots of evil today because it was used by its own creator to justify the unjustifiable giving a blueprint also for those now in charge in the “caliphate”. Pandora’s box was opened with the abuse and waterboarding and orange jumpsuits now famously seen in beheading scenes.

Fourthly – all lives matter and yes, there is in our global village a clear tendency to react more emotional when European lives or US American lives are at risk – and global diaries like Facebook make this suddenly so much more visible. And it feels wrong to many as could be seen by the reactions of so many African voices on social media. I find it remarkable that there is a sense that life is valued differently in our earthly village – and we have to work on it to change this perception.

We are in a mess – we reap what we have allowed to be seeded and we have to get out of it. But this can only happen if we overcome our emotions and start working on a better world. And it means first of all to pray and mourn those innocently slaughtered on a daily base, to keep track on all life lost on a daily base. I don’t expect the narrowness of politics to make an immediate difference but I expect us religious people to lay the grounds for a better world. The world ethos of Hans Kueng describes that there will be no peace on earth if religions don’t get it right and they are coming to a basic understanding.  We have to lead, we have to challenge each other, we have to have a robust debate on our relationship to God, to human mankind, to violence and much more, we have to find common grounds. And it all starts with mourning the death of Paris and Kenya and Nigeria and Syria and all those other hot-spots of terror, be it state sponsored or committed by others.

And let us start agreeing: ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, the word “jihad” cannot be used for terror attacks and “suicide bombers” are not connected to any religious faith whatsoever. Lets eliminate all those verbal connections loud and clearly. lets declare that killing and God does never go together and we have done the first step in the right direction. May the dialogue – urgently needed –  begin after untangling the emotions from the facts. And lets pray together for Paris and include the rest of the world in pain and agony…

Filed under: Africa, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Farewell “Christliches” Abendland (Christian Occident)

Arriving back from Europe with lots of fond memories about the HOPE Gala in Dresden and all the other great events I have had the pleasure to participate or contribute, I can’t help but feel a very deep unease regarding the so-called refugee crisis I have seen first hand and the reaction of my German brothers and sisters. Knowing that we Germans always have been blind on the right eye it is nevertheless appalling to see how many people suddenly shift their emotions and reactions loudly into a corner of anxiety and protection of the so-called German identity. History seems suddenly to be static – as if the present state of affair has always been and will always be the only one possible. Creatio ex nihilo – Germany existed since eternity and is now overrun – historic developments never took place… ?

The idea of Europe was officially founded on values like human dignity and human rights and a decent life for all, but it seems in practice it was all about finances and markets but not about people. While the “Christian roots” of Germany and Europe are mentioned at every demonstration against those fleeing to Europe, practically the value of welcoming the stranger, especially the one searching refuge seemed to be scrapped from the holy book and it’s heritage. There are too many coming, I hear again and again.
And yes, I do agree, there are indeed many coming, but has nobody been able to read the signs prior to the stream of desperate people building up in recent months? Has nobody noted that selling weapons and looking on while a country is completely destroyed in the case of Syria can’t go together for long? Has Germany thought with the Dublin agreement that Lampedusa and all other places in the South of Europe will remain nicely far away from the German way of life? Has nobody noted that cutting the funds for the refugees of the Syrian civil war in Jordan has given them no other chance than either dying in Jordan or trying their luck somewhere else?

It is appalling how especially people in politics carrying the “christian” and “social” label in their party name suddenly seems to have episodes of Alzheimer when it comes to all those hard questions – and there are many more to ask. And no, lets clarify that also: it’s not about being a “Gut-Mensch”, a softy wanting to do always good. It is about the question how ethical it is to have built up wealth by exploiting other countries, earning money on weapons sale, giving Sunday sermons in Parliament and then declaring practically that human dignity only is afforded to those who had the luck to be born in Europe. It’s about an attitude of the rich and mostly white West which touches ground with and is related to the discrimination of black people or South American refugees in the USA. It simply touches on the often outspoken discomfort, African people have when they deal with Europe – somehow related to skin color.
But it obviously also touches on the very basic fact that world politics seemingly dictates the European support for incompetent autocrats or dictators in developing countries as long as they keep quiet about the exploitation taking place or even are complicit to it.

The refugee crisis is a watershed for Germany and for the united Europe – and if they not find adequate and humane answers it will proof again that human mankind has still a long way to go before it recognizes how much it is interlinked, depend on each other and cannot afford to build walls and fences but must invest in the dignity of every human being. Otherwise let’s bid a final farewell to our European Christian roots.


Filed under: Africa, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , ,

Silence or the aftermath of a living legend

Done – the 10th HOPE Gala in Dresden is part of history and most guests from far have left the city again – others have returned to their daily struggle in so many different ways. There is always that feeling of emptiness after such a big event – memories are formed, thoughts are structured and emails and pictures and newspaper clips remind you on what happened not so long ago.
Silence – I can hear the silence breaking through after days of meetings, encounters, celebrations, dinners, touching moments – and one is again alone with oneself.
But one memory is sticking in my head – another encounter with the living legend Harry Belafonte, “Mr B” as his daughter Gina called him. Charity dinner and HOPE award – and some moments of having a conversation with him. Movie clips recall the first black entertainer appearing on US TV together with a white performer. A friend of Martin Luther King, part of the black movement and the march onto Washington; his fight for civil rights in the USA, his travels and advocacy for Africa and especially South Africa and his friendship with Nelson Mandela – all coming to life in a 10 minute trailer during the charity dinner. But one sentence is still stuck in my mind: “I have never thought that I will campaign and fight for the same things 50 years later again”, he recalls while attending to racial violence in the suburbs of US American cities.
With 88 years, it seems the conclusion is that the fight never stops and that one can do so little only to be change the world or parts of it. But at the same time he is such an inspiration and encouragement while speaking and sharply analyzing the situations of todays world and confirming that he believes in the goodness of humanity.
And he is charming – telling me that “Fr Stefan and Pope Francis” are giving him hope for the Catholic Church and reconciles him a bit as a born Catholic with his church is obviously music in the ears of a priest working in South Africa . But it is also more than flattery after his also long personal struggle with the Catholic Church. And it does not end there: He has the ability to encourage and touch the lives of people instant and with a smile and an aura I have only so far experienced when I met Nelson Mandela. One can feel the struggle, the wisdom and the maturity, but also the goodness of a person without making him an instant saint – he remains human and looking at eye level.Silence – and somehow lots of faces are appearing in my mind – all those people I met during the events in Dresden, all the people who simply gave up time and / or money to come to attend, to support, to give, to share, to participate, to contribute and to make sure that Dresden is heard in this world as a city with heart and soul caring for those infected and affected by HIV and Aids far away in South Africa. For me that is another magic to be touched by the friendliness and commitment of thousands of people in the last 10 years being faithful to one cause – not letting us down but continuing to believe that sharing is making the world a better place. Ubuntu in the best sense of the word.

Silence outside, but inside there are volcanic eruptions of thoughts, of gratefulness, of yearning for a better world, for bridging the gap; there is exhaustion and joy, but also the resolutness to stand up and walk another year in the hope of touching lives and bridging gaps to better the world by assisting those less fortune. And the hope that one day this seemingly endless struggle succeed and the world is a better place for all. Remember these words from the son “We are the world..”? A song Mr B organised to make us all aware of our responsiblity – until today.

I want to conclude this silent reflection with a thanks to Saxonia Systems, Viola and Hermjo Klein, ParX and Michaela Gornickel and her team and all involved in the 10th HOPE Gala in Dresden. You are all in my heart which is grateful forever.Foto Michael Schmidt vl Viola Klein Harry Belafonte Stefan Hippler001

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, HOPE Cape Town Trust, HOPE Gala Dresden, Reflection, , , , , , ,

Ball of HOPE

The Ball of HOPE - our charity event in Cape TownMay 14th, 2016
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11th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenNovember 12th, 2016
11 months to go.

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