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, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Prayers with hands and feet?

I am not sure I see the whole picture or maybe most is hidden in broad daylight, but entertaining Facebook, Twitter and other social media I simply fail to see much activity of local churches here in South Africa in the times of need.
Yes, I see streamed services and appeals to pray the rosary, links to the Holy Father and his impressive messages of hope – all good, but I somehow miss in the times of CAN and neighbourhood initiatives here in South Africa the strong practical voices of the church.
I miss a stronger voice of churches being an essential service in practical ways, organizing and streamlining their response to the hunger of the people, to the empty stomachs and the despair in being often confined in questionable human conditions.

Maybe I don’t look at the right places, maybe social media is not a mirror of reality, maybe churches are too humble to advertise their concerted efforts of a structured approach to the life crisis, COVID-19 is bringing to the people.
Praying with your hands and feet is part of a theology, I have favoured throughout life and especially in times like these we should see strong leadership and courage trumping those at times no-sense making rules imposed on us. And as digital media and internet in the times of distancing is an important way of communication, I would wish for more traces of a Catholic or Christian response which sees itself as an essential service in so many ways.
We can’t expect higher powers to do so – in times of crisis necessary actions are not made by proclamation but by giving belief and conviction a pair of practical hands.

As said, maybe I look at the wrong places to witness all the action done under the radar – if so, then this post should encourage everybody to come into the open – to give witness of compassion and empathy not only with holy words but also with holy – whole making in the real sense of the word –  deeds here and now.  This unprecedented crisis is a ‘kairos” – a defining moment yearning for well organized action with and between churches and faith based organisations.

As said, maybe I don’t see the whole picture, and then forgive me for shouting out,
maybe I ask too much when looking at own fears and limitations, also that would be human,
but the nagging question remains:
Where are the churches visible in this crisis as a place of structured and systematic response?

 

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,

A blessed time of Christmas

A blessed time of Christmas,

A blessed time of Peace,

A blessed time of Humanity

A blessed time to you and your family

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Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, General, HOPE Cape Town Trust, HOPE Cape Town USA, HOPE Gala Dresden, Uncategorized,

Thoughts before a trip…

The evening before my first major trip this year – and as always going through the program I am tempted to anticipate how things will work out – and questions popping up like “whom will you meet on this journey?” and “will there be that kind of connection needed to really encounter each other?”.

The first part will bring me hopefully without delay from Cape Town via Munich and Frankfurt to Bremen, a city I have never visited before. Last year march a delegation from the Federal State of Bremen visited South Africa and Cape Town. Having been able to introduce most of the more than 70 wo-men strong delegation to Blikkiesdorp and HOPE Cape Town I am now invited to learn about this Federal State. Meetings with politicians, clergy, students, refugees, press and social worker / activists are part of the program. I am indeed looking forward not only to meet those introduced to me in Cape Town but also lots of new faces for an exchange on different topics ranging from politics to economics, from trauma to HIV counseling and all in between. Not to forget a bit of culture to understand the great history of this important city.

Via Frankfurt I will then continue my travel to Dallas where I not only hope to meet with some Directors of HOPE Cape Town USA but also able to engage with the impressive Cathedral of Hope, a congregation which has so much to offer and is also willing to engage with the South African HOPE Cape Town organization. Brian’s House, our second partner is definitely on the lists of visits as other organizations. Not to forget the participation in the Dallas South Aids Walk and the baptism of the youngest member of the HOPE family – the son of Stacie and Josh. It will be a real honor to christian the young man. The stay would not be complete without meeting Rev Ted coming all the way from New Mexico – lots of good advice is on the way.

A drive to Houston will complement impressions I gather every time I visit Texas learning more of the spirit of the people living here.  Then flying off to Puerto de Vallarta, where my duties as the chaplain to see for the MS Amadea during the last days of lent and the Holy week commences. Jamaica, Panama, Mexico are some of the stop-overs and finally end April going in Miami from board to catch a flight from Fort Lauderdale via Washington, Frankfurt and Johannesburg back to Cape Town.

What will I bring home from all this travel? Lots to tell I guess, tons of new experiences and certainly more people to feel connected with. Hopefully also some more people interested to join the HOPE family. Whatever it will be – there is always a change, a growth connected to travel – there is always a broader view on the world and its possibilities and challenges achieved. All these can be a blessing and a curse when you come home where life is so limited to a certain frame of customs, experience and expectations. Traveling the world can make a person sometimes very lonely but traveling the world with a mission will always counter this and make sure that the balance is right.

And there is more: Traveling and meeting at first complete strangers shows also how much more talking is needed to understand the realities behind the words used to communicate with each other. Using the same language does not mean to understand each other, describing situations does not mean to get the point across – upbringing, culture, politics and socialization determine the use of language and one quick realizes that the “global village” needs quite some push to become reality in the madness of the world today.

Filed under: chaplain, chaplain to sea, General, HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Association, HOPE Cape Town USA, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Silence is sometimes indeed the best way to reflect

Since my last post about the child abuse in the Catholic Church the revelations have not stopped but intensified. While right-wing media like kath.net”” in Germany and “LifesiteNews” abuse the opportunity to a full-scale war against Pope Francis and moderate cardinals also their defenders up-ed their involvement of poking holes in the arguments and (fake) news of their opponents.
I guess all of this will not solve the problem which is much deeper than most current debate allows for.
The elephants in the room are power, ideology, clericalism and the question of sexuality. And knowing what we know now also the question of sainthood for John-Paul II which was rushed without any need but done under the pressure of those trying to cement the Polish way of understanding church and faith.
If our church will have a chance in the future – it will be only feasible if and when those topics are honestly and with the participation of all concerned will be addressed. Otherwise the shadow of a living church – more an ideology of creed will pretend to be the church of Jesus Christ.
Looking at the evangelical churches of the USA supporting and condoning everything their current president is doing, gives us a glimpse into our future if we are not able to hold in, reflect and let the spirit work.

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

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