God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Youth Day

Commemorating the events of 1976 – Soweto uprising – lives lost – dreams destroyed – future killed.

Since the advent of the New South Africa we hear rightly, that youth and youth development, youth employment are falling under the most important and pressing issues, South Africa has to tackle.

At the same time, ordinary citizens are again and again reminded by looking into the reality beneath the Sunday sermons of politicians, how messed up the situation is, especially when it comes to youth unemployment. Not sure if it is incompetence, wishful thinking of ideologists, political fantasies of bygone times, unsaved hurt of the past or the pressure to perform and keep up the illusion of action even in the eye of proven underperformance that causes this discrepancy between words and realities.

Whatever it is – South Africa will only have a future for all if youth have a dignified way to learn, to study, to train and to fulfil a satisfying role in the social and economical spheres of society.
If the high rising unemployment rate will continue in speed and volume as currently happening, the country will not saved by illusion, dreams and Sunday talks of the Presidency or the relevant departments in government.

Obviously, there are obstacles to solve the problem: real and perceived racism, real and perceived imbalances in the economic sector, the pressure of BEE in its current form and shape and the political scenery, which happily involves their own ideology and enemy image destroying many constructive opportunities. And clearly a failure in the educational sector on many levels.

We owe it to those who sacrificed their lives in 1976 and thereafter to get it right and to build a South Africa where young people have all tools at hand to prosper and make a decent living. It is a challenge which remain with urgency in our times. And only if we conquered this challenge, Youth Days in South Africa will be happy and celebratory in substance.

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

Racist teachers remarks…

It sounds familiar in South Africa: accusations of racist remarks, racist deeds or racist intentions are every weeks’ news: schools, companies, institutions – and this time the German International School in Cape Town.

I don’t want to go into the details of this case but look at it from a different and more general perspective:

Accusations fly – then a broader audience takes part – political organisations join in – protests, sometimes violence, and the at a given point the next location, the next scenario, the next accusations. From outside, very often emotions are triggered without even knowing the specifics of a case. For some, those accusations are a welcome motivation to get into fight mode; for others it is the eternal circle of pulling the race card, when all other arguments are lost and nothing is left than taking out the racist hammer to destroy the possibility of serious arguments and search for the truth of the matter.

Maybe it is time to step back and look at the problem of racism, perceived racism, abuse of racism accusation as a weapon of choice from some distance. If we really want to tackle the problem of racism, but also the problem of using it as a weapon, we have to invent a response which is structured and able to look at a case from all sides. Emotions, protest, placards, violence and political grandstanding are poison.

Obviously this only will work if people are willing to confront, assess, acknowledge the problem and if they are really interested in allowing for healing for the sake of a peaceful future. It demands listening skills, acknowledgement of history and a non-judgemental attitude to allow for this acknowledge and healing process. Add to it an open mind and a caring heart, as well as the social and political will to succeed. It requires a protected safe space to allow for honesty and self-reflection,

But: it really should not be facilitated by politicians or state institutions here in South Africa. It should be far away from political parties.
In my humble view, creating this structured approach is a task, proven and acknowledged churches should invest in and called upon. Here, the sacred space could create a practical tool to allow for the process to unfold. Unagitated, serious and non-destructive, but with the clear aim to learn, to overcome and so to put in pillars for a racist-free society. South Africa will only succeed to create a future for all if we are able to do so – and we could once again be an example for the world.

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

The sound of silence

I don’t know how you as the reader have experienced the last 14 months – for me, I can say I have had times when silence was the only answer I could give to all the challenges I saw appearing on a daily basis.

There was the challenge of the small little bug threatening to disrupt life in a massive way – so many things we took for granted were suddenly gone – and the freedoms we naturally enjoyed curtailed in ways not seen in my lifetime. And as much as it made sense in the beginning, there was always that voice of concern that democracy and civil rights seemed to be very vulnerable and the abuse of power by politicians a real opportunity.

Covid-19 also was the mirror where humanity could see all the failures, gaps and injustices it got so much used to; the vaccination story tells us about a still colonial mindset on both parts – those in the first world donating freely after securing their very own, but also the begging of African leaders while hiding the failures of their own doing, corruption and incompetence. For South Africans, the Covid-19 story will always be connected to a mind-boggling corruption not leaving out the Minister of Health and the department, tasked to save lives and not to play with them. But also Germany had its scandals in this regard; the temptation of power and money is universal…

Having to travel in the midst of a pandemic and often to deal with unreasonable rules and people, who seemingly have lost their minds in theories on COVID-19 and vaccination defeating any reason and departing from the possibility of meaningful discussion, adds fuel to the challenges on the road. The frustration of people and the trauma caused by all the lockdown rules will accompany us for a long time to come.

As a church person the ongoing discussions over child abuse, the refusal of many within the church to understand the depth of hurt and the cheer unbelievable clinging to power in Diocese of Cologne as an example simply added to the rollercoaster of feelings in the last month. Covid-19 has obviously put churches and their relevance for society on the spot – and we can expect more discussions on this topic as we go forward.

Obviously, as chair of the HOPE Cape Town Trust building a campus in the midst of a pandemic where funders and sponsors are fighting for their own survival has its own challenges; still, I am encouraged by the willingness of many to continue support and to encourage in all ways possible. For me, this goodwill is indeed a counterforce to all challenges mentioned.

The sound of silence – being able to switch of all the noise and to withdraw into the silence of your very own, to listen to the whisper of your inner voice confirming who you are and what you stand for – and what really counts in life – this might be the only point of reference to conquer the challenges of our times.

I strongly believe that you can find a meaning or a teaching or a hint or a message in any situation if you are able and willing to go back to your own roots and convictions. Covid-19 might be a great teacher in this regard. There is a chance that we as individuals come out much stronger than we thought – and this strength can be used to contribute to the well-being of society and humanity.

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

Travelling in Covid-19 times

Queuing for an antigen test is an almost daily exercise

“Yes, a valid antigen test has to be provided every 48 hours”, so the receptionist when I tried to check into my next hotel. “But” he continued, my 24-hour-old test from another province does not count. And no, no room without this test – and obviously I should consider myself lucky that after an 8-hour drive there is still almost an hour to go before the testing centre in town closes its doors and I have to sleep in my car… Lucky me!

Breakfast – well officially business travellers are allowed to have buffet in the breakfast room and tourists not, but I get explained that it is easier to deny everybody the breakfast room – then they don’t have to ask who is falling under which category. Makes sense – and you can pick up your paper back at reception- whatever is in you eat…

Federalism means every province or “Bundesland” does make its own little rules – what is allowed in one city is not allowed in another city; one learns as one goes along. This applies also for the antigen testing: in one city it can only be done via throat swap, the next insists of nasal exploration – and here, where I am currently, both must be done. Not to forget that every testing station has its own system of catching data – and they don’t talk to each other – app spaces are getting tight on the cell-phone.

But besides all this I should be lucky to travel – even I have to admit that it is at times difficult to understand the reaction of my fellow Germans – frustrated by months after months of lockdown, bad weather and closed shops and restaurants. This is changing now: I can vouch that the outside restaurant facilities can be used as a new main attraction – mainly by appointment and with a fresh 24-hour antigen test – and I can tell you: sitting in the rain under a sun umbrella, water slowly congregating where you sit or creeping slowly on head or shoulders is fun – especially if you add wind and cold to it. Yes, Germany has changed….

What frightens me most is hearing about policing each other, neighbours calling the police if you have too many visitors and the divide between those, who obey religiously and those opposing the measures as “Querdenkers” or alike. It almost feels like my travel in the USA during Trump times – a deep divide with no room for the middle ground.

I honestly don’t know exactly what to make out of it – and if there are really lessons to be learned for the future. Most people talk about those lessons – but somehow I have the feeling that everybody is simply yearning for the good old times which ended in March 2020 with the first lock-downs.

Like in South Africa, also in Europe democracy took a hit and the easiness to degree new rules and control citizens is in itself worth a reflection. I guess we all realised how quick in current times liberties can be revoked; hard fought for rights can disappear overnight and how vulnerable our systems are: economically and democratically.

Suddenly, the yellow vaccine passport becomes the new ticket to freedom of movement – and as it is with the so-called “South African mutant” hysteria can cut off people indefinite or put restrictions on them which are neither reasonable nor conductive to human rights and business between countries. There is so much needing more consideration and less anxiety; there is so much which needs adherence to reason and not assumptions.

A last observation is that certainly those who have less in this world are again the losers of the pandemic – inequality remains rampant and the run of the first world towards vaccines while fending off those outside is a clear indication that human mankind continues to fall short to understand, that in some questions and challenges we are all in together as humans.

Filed under: General, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , ,

“The Nex” Theology

The Nex - Blessings ceremony
Blessing Ceremony

People of faith think in religious terms, their whole life makes sense in the light of a belief system giving meaning to what they do and how they see life in general. It does not mean to prescribe this to all involved, but it serves as an explanation for motivation, reflected on a deeper personal level. This is a first draft, a first attempt to reflect on the theological meaning of building a campus in Delft / South Africa.

Theological Consideration – first thoughts…

Normally Catholic priests in South Africa are bound to parish life, leading under the authority of a Bishop the faithful of a prescribed territorial area in prayer, worship and charity for those in need.

Running a foundation during the week and only attending to the spiritual needs on a weekend as a supply priest before retirement is already different and for some not fitting the picture of a priest. Building a campus in a gang and crime ridden area is then certainly not their first priestly task and would be seen as extra-ordinary, rather flamboyant in church terms.

And still, I believe there is merit to look with a theological and pastoral eye exactly on this campus comprising of buildings serving in the following areas: Health, Early Childhood Development, Social Services, Youth, Entrepreneurial Skills Development and Vocational Training. Not to forget community uplifting, understanding of democracy and the value of human life and human dignity.

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!
Genesis 1:31

Having worked in the Delft area since more than a decade Delft mirrors all the shortcomings of the new South Africa, it showcases the lost hopes, the cut-short aspirations, the undervalue of life as such, latent racism and not a lot of those living there would on a daily basis and in their daily life agree, that all is “very good”. Churches of different kinds are spread all over Delft and often for some hours they beam those attending gatherings into a different sphere trying to instil hope for the days to come.

Sermons can be a good tool to inspire but I feel that theology and bible are more than source for fiery sermons, theology – the word of God – must trickle down much more than just in words and charity, it must be felt and walked the talk by development and action on the ground. The word of God must be felt in the trenches of daily life experience for those left out here in South Africa after more than 30 years living in the promised land called the New South Africa.

Theology can also not only be confined in the framework of parishes, formation seminars, theological faculties and church structures – it must cover that “God looked over all he had made” – so there should be room for more than church structures allowing the word “catholic” – meaning covering the whole – universal to be put into action.

Theology must also be able to be applied to what we do and how we act – it should be able to make sense and to bring a greater meaning to our action – it is part of a circle of action – interpretation – encouragement and out of this more, different but definitely better or more appropriate action again before the circle starts anew. At the same time there is no need for religion to capture what is done. There will be different motivations, different ethos and different religious affiliation and convictions of those working together on a project like “The Nex”.  There will be different ways to describe God or the reason for creation, there will be different theologies – and if such a project fosters more dialogue amongst those different pictures without becoming a competition there is another ecumenical and inter-religious meaning in what we do. “The Nex” becomes a place where unspoken different religions encounter each other in a practical way for the better good of people. The blessings ceremony for The Nex – Indawo Yethu  gave witness to intention and prayers when a Catholic priest, a Rabbi, an Imam and a Sangoma not only spoke but brought the blessings onto the new venture.

In the Catholic Church we talk about the “option for the poor” – and again here we are: How easy is it, to establish oneself as an NGO in one of the safe areas instead of going there, where it hurts, where things will on a long run not only run smoothly but hurtles will be encountered, failures will happen and the hardship of life will be mirrored and shared within this project as people experience it themselves every day. Walking together and staying together even if it hurts at times is taking the words “all is very good” almost on a prophetic level: we are not in the promised land, but we have made ourselves ready to walk towards it; together and equipped with hope, love and faith, that we can reach our destiny.

“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?.”
 1 Corinthians 6:19

Spiritually is often connected to meditation and prayer, sometimes fasting exercises which indicate that concentrating on the body is an important part of such exercises. Mindfulness towards body and spirit.
I strongly believe that to a holistic spiritual wellbeing health and attention to the body is non-negotiable. The Nex – Indawo Yethu acknowledges this with the offering of health services, linked to social services and the programme of the “First 1000 days” specifically looking at the wellbeing of a human being in the decisive foundation phase of life.

Health, Wellness – mental health and an environment to thrive is so important especially for children and adolescents. Not forgetting those kids with special needs whose wellbeing will be catered for specifically in the Early Childhood Development Centre of the Campus.

Safety is another aspect of bodily wellbeing. The Nex – Indawo Yethu is situated in an area which is marked currently by violence and gangsterism as well as drug-related problems. It is certainly not a safe area, and it was interesting to see and hear, that in the first community participation meeting we had, the question of safety was raised several times: “Are our kids, our youngsters safe on your campus?” Obviously, this is a challenge and if you want the ugly side of business to admit, that security measures have to play a vital role in planning and executing this project. But ones again: the hope that The Nex – Indawo Yethu can be a turning point in moving into a more peaceful future translates a building into a prophetic sign that change is possible and change in this regard is on the way.

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, Religion and Ethics, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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  • RT @DeanMacpherson: Mbeki really putting the boot into Cyril over EWC. Interesting timing of this letter surfacing. Clearly he must believe… - 4 hours ago

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