God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

Thoughts, inside, comments of a Catholic priest

Virgil on the eve of the Synod

Pope Francis delivered a homily on the eve of commencing the Synod of the Family which you can read here in full. The Synod of the family is not only purely about family values. It is a Synod dealing with the open questions of how to see divorced-remarried couples, how to deal with same-sex marriages and partnerships, with polygamy, sexuality as such, birth control and so much more. It is the second meeting of the Synod – unprecedented in the Roman-Catholic Church with 1.2 billion members.It has indeed an impact also on how to deal with HIV and AIDS as all this is interconnected. The fight between those wanting to keep all as it is and those who are willing to develop the teaching and acknowledging that the church is not standing still but is in a dynamic relationship with God and his people has reached unprecedented highs. So called right-winger are almost threatening to destroy the unity of the church in stating that any change would be against God’s will and Jesus teaching. A pivotal moment in the history of the church and to be compared with 1968 and the encyclical writing “Humane Vitae”. The disappointment and lack of sensus fidelium regarding this papal writing is felt in the church until today.One can only hope that 2015 will be a year of renewal and the renewed discovery of unconditional love and mercy for the church. Here the pope’s homily providing a framework for the following weeks of discernment.

Dear Families,
Good evening! What good is it to light a little candle in the darkness? Isn’t there a better way to dispel the darkness? Can the darkness even be overcome?
At some points in life – this life so full of amazing resources – such questions have to be asked. When life proves difficult and demanding, we can be tempted to step back, turn away and withdraw, perhaps even in the name of prudence and realism, and thus flee the responsibility of doing our part as best we can.
Do you remember what happened to Elijah? From a human point of view, the prophet was afraid and tried to run away. “Elijah was afraid; he got up and fled for his life… He walked for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God. At that place he came to a cave and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (1 Kg 19:3,8-9). On Horeb, he would get his answer not in the great wind which shatters the rocks, nor in the earthquake nor even in the fire. God’s grace does not shout out; it is a whisper which reaches all those who are ready to hear its still, small voice. It urges them to go forth, to return to the world, to be witnesses to God’s love for mankind, so that the world may believe.
In this vein, just a year ago, in this same Square, we invoked the Holy Spirit and asked that – in discussing the theme of the family – the Synod Fathers might listen attentively to one another, with their gaze fixed on Jesus, the definitive Word of the Father and the criterion by which everything is to be measured.
This evening, our prayer cannot be otherwise. For as Patriarch Athenagoras reminded us, without the Holy Spirit God is far off, Christ remains in the past, the Church becomes a mere organization, authority becomes domination, mission becomes propaganda, worship becomes mystique, Christian life the morality of slaves.
So let us pray that the Synod which opens tomorrow will show how the experience of marriage and family is rich and humanly fulfilling. May the Synod acknowledge, esteem, and proclaim all that is beautiful, good and holy about that experience. May it embrace situations of vulnerability and hardship: war, illness, grief, wounded relationships and brokenness, which create distress, resentment and separation. May it remind these families, and every family, that the Gospel is always “good news” which enables us to start over. From the treasury of the Church’s living tradition may the Fathers draw words of comfort and hope for families called in our own day to build the future of the ecclesial community and the city of man.
Every family is always a light, however faint, amid the darkness of this world.
Jesus’ own human experience took shape in the heart of a family, where he lived for thirty years. His family was like any number of others, living in an obscure village on the outskirts of the Empire.
Charles de Foucauld, perhaps like few others, grasped the import of the spirituality which radiates from Nazareth. This great explorer hastily abandoned his military career, attracted by the mystery of the Holy Family, the mystery of Jesus’ daily relationship with his parents and neighbors, his quiet labor, his humble prayer. Contemplating the Family of Nazareth, Brother Charles realized how empty the desire for wealth and power really is. Through his apostolate of charity, he became everything to everyone. Attracted by the life of a hermit, he came to understand that we do not grow in the love of God by avoiding the entanglement of human relations. For in loving others, we learn to love God, in stooping down to help our neighbor, we are lifted up to God. Through his fraternal closeness and his solidarity with the poor and the abandoned, he came to understand that it is they who evangelize us, they who help us to grow in humanity.
To understand the family today, we too need to enter – like Charles de Foucauld – into the mystery of the family of Nazareth, into its quiet daily life, not unlike that of most families, with their problems and their simple joys, a life marked by serene patience amid adversity, respect for others, a humility which is freeing and which flowers in service, a life of fraternity rooted in the sense that we are all members of one body.
The family is a place where evangelical holiness is lived out in the most ordinary conditions. There we are formed by the memory of past generations and we put down roots which enable us to go far. The family is a place of discernment, where we learn to recognize God’s plan for our lives and to embrace it with trust. It is a place of gratuitousness. Of discreet fraternal presence and solidarity, a place where we learn to step out of ourselves and accept others, to forgive and to be forgiven.
Let us set out once more from Nazareth for a Synod which, more than speaking about the family, can learn from the family, readily acknowledging its dignity, its strength and its value, despite all its problems and difficulties.
In the “Galilee of the nations” of our own time, we will rediscover the richness and strength of a Church which is a mother, ever capable of giving and nourishing life, accompanying it with devotion, tenderness, and moral strength. For unless we can unite compassion with justice, we will end up being needlessly severe and deeply unjust.
A Church which is family is also able to show the closeness and love of a father, a responsible guardian who protects without confining, who corrects without demeaning, who trains by example and patience, sometimes simply by a silence which bespeaks prayerful and trusting expectation.
Above all, a Church of children who see themselves as brothers and sisters, will never end up considering anyone simply as a burden, a problem, an expense, a concern or a risk. Other persons are essentially a gift, and always remain so, even when they walk different paths.
The Church is an open house, far from outward pomp, hospitable in the simplicity of her members. That is why she can appeal to the longing for peace present in every man and woman, including those who – amid life’s trials – have wounded and suffering hearts.
This Church can indeed light up the darkness felt by so many men and women. She can credibly point them towards the goal and walk at their side, precisely because she herself first experienced what it is to be endlessly reborn in the merciful heart of the Father.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Church battle intensifies

Well, I have to admit: Whoever got Kim Davis, the bigot Kentucky county clerk who went to prison for refusing to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple to meet Pope Francis scored a point and steered the pot. Everybody is screaming and shouting – one side because of the joy to exploit such a meeting and to abuse the figure of the pope; the other side because they feel this is a sign of rejection towards their cause. Let’s keep the world grey and not black and white: As said, those wanting to turn the clock back in church scored a little victory but looking at it without falling into emotions it is quite simple: The pope met hundreds of people, he met gay people at the White House – and also there we saw the same scenario, one-quarter jubilant while the other fighting the presence of a gay bishop and friends. I believe he is a pope with a message for all and if I only take serious that the first and foremost duty is to welcome everybody – so also the lady Kim Davis.
Asked about the Davis case during his flight back, he said and I have no reason to doubt this, that he does not know the particulars of this case. Davis and her husband were in Washington for a different reason: they were to receive the “Cost of Discipleship” award on Friday 25 September from The Family Research Council at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.  And I am sure in that context you find those who have been pulling the strings to make this meeting go ahead. And the words of encouragement – have you ever listened to the Queen of England: Every small talk conversation has the same theme – and so it is with all people having to meet different people all day long. Words of encouragement are standard with this pope and his message.
Generally I believe that we all should relax a little bit more and see and appreciate that the church indeed is moving under the leadership of Pope Francis. The Catholic Church is an old lady and we are starting to see the revitalization of the II Vatican Council after going backwards before his election. This revitalization and acknowledgement of the church in today’s society and a message relevant for today’s people, the working of the spirit is what scares those who have fallen in the trap of ideology within our church. Church teaching always developed and the church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit always got a deeper understanding of God’s good message. Blocking this development like some high-ranking church officials try to do in the moment via statements or writing books or even accusing directly or indirectly those of acknowledging the signs of the time brings the danger of gliding from faith into ideology. On a positive note it shows how human the church is when cardinals try in vain to push their point of view as the only correct one forward.
And another positive note: Who would have thought that the Catholic Church is able on this level to have a debate? Who would have thought that a Synod is more than giving the nod whatever the Vatican and the Curia has already decided beforehand? Remember the days of John-Paul II or Benedict XVI – would such a debate be possible?

So let the church battle intensify without losing our heads and minds in the “Kim Davis story” or extreme statements like voiced by Cardinal Sarah or Cardinal Burke. Let us acknowledge the humanity of the debate and hope and pray for the divine mercy filtering through during the days of the Synod and at the end it will be Pope Francis who will make sense of it all – that is indeed his role as the Peter of today.

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, General, Politics and Society, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Truly himself

With this short blog entry I want to salute Pope Francis for remaining true to himself. Be it at Capitol Hill, where he made himself heard without falling into the trap of US politics; be it in Philadelphia where he did not fall into Archbishop Chaput’s trap of bashing LGBTI families – he simply was concentrated on proclaiming the gospel which runs against all those ideologies put forward before the trip even started. Well done and so refreshing to see, to listen and to watch on TV and the social media. The church has changed dramatically during the II Vatican Council listening to the spirit and the church is changing again now led by the same good spirit of God. Ad multos annos.
No to close inner circles, it is a perversion of faith



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

Ideology or Faith?

It is an amazing change of hearts I observe with those being on the very right or so-called conservative spectrum of our church: While under John-Paul II and Benedict XVI any criticism of the pope or Vatican decision was deemed inexcusable and punishable, suddenly those very same people start making it an honorable thing to criticize and lament the Synod and the leadership of Pope Francis – the latter still in cautious terms but when it comes to people like Cardinal Burke and others, it is quite obvious. The rules of yesterday are not applicable anymore today. And with the same brutality they insisted in those gone days on obedience without hesitance or second thoughts, they now push the agenda of what the Synod or the Pope cannot do.

As much as I understand the anxiety of people who remain prisoners of their own chosen mental prison and who are now suddenly having to reason any of their stances instead of being able to take it for granted, I must admit that I see with astonishment how hardened people defend their position not willing even to listen to others who are coming from a different point of view. And suddenly doctrine and pastoral theology seemed to stand irreconcilably against each other never being able of reconciliation.  One reads about “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?” and alleged manipulations and the now famous Cardinal Burke stated that the final report of the extraordinary Synod produced a “gravely flawed document that does not express adequately the teaching and discipline of the Church and, in some aspects, propagates doctrinal error and a false pastoral approach”

Do I miss here something or is it really that more than 30 years of a certain style of ruling within the church the people within have forgotten how to talk, how to argue, how to open up to the arguments and considerations of the others concerning matters of the church. Pope Francis encouraged the participants of the Synod to speak freely and to listen without reservations. These are the basis of deliberation and discernment to find consent, to build bridges, to see realities, to encourage dialogue and to give Pope Francis the tools to extract what is needed for the development of the church. Synods are advisory boards – they are not a parliament and they should have the openness to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit who – in my humble opinion – can’t work freely if there is nothing to reflect or to develop as everything must remain as it is.

Ecclesia semper reformanda and so even doctrine means no a static thing but that we as a Church have to listen and search always more deeply what it is at the core; meant to strengthen the people of God and to encourage them to live life to the fullest. I haven’t seen anybody connected to the Synod who really wants to change the core of church teaching, but I have seen many trying to apply new academic knowledge and new circumstances which may lead to not only a new language but also a more developed and adequate application to the realities of people today.

Mercy and the theology of marriage are no enemies and have never been, the knowledge of sexuality and it’s diversity has changed, ways of reading and interpretation of bible verses are developing constantly – there is no need to fear open and honest considerations without knowing at the beginning of discernment what will be the end result. This is indeed new to such a church body and a real chance this Synod with all its preparatory meetings and inputs has created: an open space for minds to challenge each other, for the spirit to flow and to trust, so the Pope, that under the chairmanship of Peter God will show the way.

There is no need to build up theological barricades or fortresses to defend yesterday – look at Abraham and Moses and be aware that faith always means to set out trusting that God is in the lead. If one only holds firm what one knows already there is the danger that faith turns into ideology and that would be the worst outcome of any such church assembly.

Filed under: Catholic Church, chaplain, Politics and Society, Religion and Ethics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Blessings for so called “irregular” or same-sex relationships?

After writing about my expectations on the synod related to the questions of family I was asked about my stand on blessings for e.g. same sex couples or divorced-remarried ones. Should the church bless such relationships? This is indeed a question most of us priests try to avoid to answer in public because it can bring us into trouble with the authority and also with those claiming to know every aspect of the will of God since eternity.
But I believe we can not run away and not dealing with such questions and as I believe that there is always a good hint coming your way if you in trouble (this time with a question) there it was before starting to write this blog:

Reading the “Paulinus”, the weekly newspaper of my home diocese, I came across a short note about the meeting between Pope Francis and Bishop Galliot from France. Quoting the newspaper “Le Figaro” it says that “mit Blick auf die Segnung von wiederverheirateten Geschiedenen oder homosexuellen Paaren habe der Papst gelächelt und gesagt: „Der Segen Gottes ist für alle da.“
Translated it says: “looking at the question of blessings for divorced remarried or same-sex couples the pope smiled and said: “God’s blessing is for everybody”.”
And I personally think this is indeed the answer: There is no way that you can deny somebody made in the image of God his blessing. Even the German “Benedictionale”, the book of  blessings has at the end a blessing “for anything” – and if you can bless anything, you can also bless a person.

A blessings means that we speak out and confirm that God and his unconditional love is with a person – and especially when there is love and commitment, who would dare to say that God is absent?
If only those refusing to bless would understand that the measurements of God are so different in mercy, love, forgiveness than what our small little mind can comprehend.

Well, I hear already those who say: Well, yeah, he is with a person, but blessings a relationship? After a failed marriage or in a same-sex relationship?
Well, my answer would be similar to what Cardinal Schoenborn from Austria said in an interview recently: Let’s not come from a formal side telling people directly all what is wrong. “We should look at the many situations of cohabitation not just from the point of view of what is missing, but also from the point of view of what is promised, what is already there.After all, the Council points out, that although there is always real holiness in the Church, the Church is nevertheless made up of sinners and is advancing along a path of conversion.”, he says.
And once again: If there is love, if there is commitment, if there is responsibility, isn’t there God present? Are we not promised that God is with us unconditionally? I believe this is indeed the “scandolon” also for the church, that God’s unconditional love even shows that church teaching has to be developed, brought to a deeper level again and again.

So coming back to the question of a blessing: A blessing is no sacrament, a blessing does not undermine any dogmatic teaching of the church – it re-affirms simply that the unconditional love of God is present and that the yearning for people to be whole, to be taken seriously in their quest to have a fulfilled life and to find joy and happiness is a valid one, seen and mercifully acknowledge by God.

Let me finally say:

For me a blessing is indeed a non-sacramental, but still an intimate and personal act of devotion between God and those being blessed, it is a divine communication making grace and mercy tangible and opens up for the spirit to work. And God’s good spirit at work in the lives of people – isn’t that wonderful?

Filed under: Catholic Church, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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