God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

“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, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Blessing question

The answer of the Vatican to the question whether the Catholic Church can bless same-sex partnerships has created quite some waves of outrage in all corners of the church. Even bishops and highranking officals show signs of incomprehension. Signature lists are making the round and statements are published.

I understand the outrage but I have to say: The answer relies on a sexual moral, I have questioned already in my book with B.Grill ” Gott-Aids-Afrika” in 2007. Offically nothing really has changed and the church unfortunately is still ages away from understanding the newest academic knowledge about how sexuality is defined and lived.

i renew my call to develop the teaching and to listen to the sister of faith, which is academia and knowledge. Both lead closer to God. Resisting to understand and implement new insights into theology does not serve the people of God, nor the church as an institution.

And until then I will bless love whenever I am asked, I will accompany my brothers and sisters, be they straight or queer; I strongly believe they all are meant to be a blessing for society. I will listen to my calling to embrace them and their situation and trying to be a vessel of God’s unconditional love for each one.

Filed under: Catholic Church, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , , ,

Blessed Christmas

Frohe und gesegnete Weihnacht – Merry Christmas – Geseënde Kersfees – Ikrismesi emnandi –
Jabulela Ukhisimusi – oyeux Noël – Wesołych Świąt – Hyvää joulua – Feliz Natal – חג מולד שמח – Veselé Vánoce – Joyeux Noël – Buon Natale – mutlu Noeller – 圣诞节快乐 – God Jul! – Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus – สุขสันต์วันคริสต์มาส – Καλά Χριστούγεννα

2020 was a challenge to all of us – may the spirit of Christmas reconcile our hearts and minds and give us the energy to tackle 2021 head on. Challenges are always also possibilities – let’s use them for more life, for more hope, for more love and for more peace in the world.

Thank you for all the support received in the ending year – it was appreciated.

2020 war eine Herausforderung für alle – möge die Weihnachtszeit unsere Herzen stärken, um 2021 mit neuer Tatkraft anzugehen. Herausforderungen sind immer auch Möglichkeiten – Möglichkeiten für mehr Leben, mehr Hoffnung, mehr Liebe und mehr Frieden in dieser Welt.
Vielen Dank für alle Unterstützung im nun zu Ende gehenden Jahr.

Best wishes / In Verbundenheit

Stefan

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Uncategorized, , ,

Truth, facts and lies

Living together as society means compromising on the way, we want to live together; it means tolerance towards the life design of my neighbour and to acknowledge the boundaries of what is still acceptable and what not.

For this to happen and for society to function we need to agree on some facts or truth, which build the base of every exploration of boundaries and limitations, freedoms and expectations.

The advent of social media and global connectivity via the internet has given rise to an ugly side of these advances which we call fake news, conspiracy theories or simply lies. This has brought us as societies, but also as human mankind in a danger zone.

For example Donald Trump lies regarding election results jeopardizes the US democracy with consequences for other countries and their safety and well-being. His lies and fake news about climate change has serious consequences for Mother Earth and the future of human mankind. His denial towards Covid-19 costs thousands of human beings their lives.

The denial of truth and the ignorance towards facts is not only in the political arena dangerous, also other organisations weaken themselves because of it. Look at the Catholic Church and its dealing with the topic “abuse”. Not acknowledging the facts brings besides pain and hurt also disrepute and a silent withdraw from many, looking for a new home for their belief system or drifting into the fake news corner and hoping that denying facts and changing the narrative rescues somehow their faith. We see this in so many instances in the USA even much broader than only in the cases of abuse or only the Catholic Church, looking at the Evangelical churches and major parts of the Catholic Church where meanwhile ideology, focusing on one aspect while actively ignoring or fighting all other not so convenient parts of reality trump (in the real sense of the word with a big T) religion and transform it into a blindly followed ideology.

Obviously fake news, lies, blind ideology have a shelf life, which is definitely prolonged by the use or better abuse of social media, the bitter flip side of something which was aimed to connect people and ended up to divide them in ways we never thought we will see. Do you recall the enthusiasm of entering a new millennium, the dream of a global village, the possibility to communicate and foster peace and dignity around the globe and the belief, that digital communication will bring all the positive goodies to the world we live in?

We are doing a detour now regarding truth and common grounds – and maybe as human mankind we are allowed to do so. But I would argue that the silent majority has now seen enough to determine the dead end and the destruction caused. Now is the time to stand up for the truth, for valid discernment and reasoning and I believe that especially religion – and religion does not mean necessarily church institutions – has a major role to play: the tradition of mystics (think Karl Rahner) and Global ethics (think Hans Kueng) and yes, the encyclicals and universal writings of Pope Francis are waiting to be more – or again – discovered and put into practice.

At the end truth will prevail – the costs to get there – that is the only thing we can determine as human beings and influence as part of societies.

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

Roma locuta and other anxieties

Roma locuta causa finita – Rome has spoken, the discussion is over, so goes the proverbial attitude within the Catholic Church pointing out that the final verdict in the Roman-Catholic church always is a Vatican located one. Rome is speaking a lot in our days – be it about the synodal process in Germany, be it about the Synod of Trier and its decisions, be it on valid baptisms and other theological matters.
And looking also across the aisle into the political and social arena to the floods of words on social media, spearheaded by a twitter-happy Donald Trump, the armies of automated bots and paid pen or keyboard holding soldiers, one can drown in the flood of words and verdicts, of opinions and analysis being encountered opening the email box, social media or news outlets.

And in so many cases, be it Roma or the warrior behind the keyboard, it seems that whatever is said or voiced carries often the smell of eternal truth, to be defended and backed up either with dogma or ideology depending on the arena it plays out. Strength and power are on display, conviction and verbal muscle play.

I don’t know, but in a world battling to understand the blessings and curse of a digitally connected world and a human race being challenged to either develop or to disappear, I see tons of anxieties hidden behind the just described scenario of current times. And this in turn leads to the yearning for leaders who clearly define black and white, good and bad, right or wrong to make it easier to navigate through a time when nothing seems to be fixed and everything flowing.

And it does not matter which arena you look at: the religious, the political or the social; be it values or certainties of the past: the philosophical concept of Heraclitus called Panta Rhei seems scary to most fellow humans. And Covid-19, the invisible small little bug has doubled down on those personal, social and political uncertainties, fears and anxieties. It has led to more conspiracy theories, which in turn have garnered more disciples from all walks of life and killing rational thinking and common sense on its way.

The human race is at the moment running in a proverbial hamster wheel fuelled by all those anxieties, refusing to stop in its track and just taking a breath and break. And maybe even pay attention to a writing, which was signed in Assisi last week: Fratelli tutti, the third encyclical of Pope Francis which is much more than a letter to only the faithful. Together with Laudato Si and the Abu Dhabi declaration on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together there is a treasurer of wisdom to be found to escape all those anxieties and grandstanding and false religious and political prophets and rabble-rousers of current times. I would add to this the world ethos concept of Prof Hans Küng to cover most aspects of what has to happen to give the human race a fair chance for survival on the long term.

There are many voices of reason – even some coming out of Rome – the question is: will they succeed in being listened to?

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

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