God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

A human “mea culpa” needed – and then action

Hurricanes, heat-waves, fires destroying big chunks of nature and habitation in California, Turkey, Greece, Russia and so many more parts of the globe. And looking at Germany, the big floods still are making headlines, destroying the livelihood of so many while having killed others in their way of destruction.

In all the tragedies, with all the sympathies and with not stopping to help and assist those in need and those having suffered or mourning the loss of a loved one or their sheer existence; we have to ask the hard question about responsibility in particular cases and wider scenarios.

I recall as a youngster, scientists left no doubt that the way we treat nature, the way we get closer to the rivers while at the same time straightening them out to serve our purpose, will hit back. We know since ages, the way we live is unsustainable; we know that climate change is happening and will, if not tackle, destroy us as the human race. Earth will not care about it – the small little ball within the universe will continue without us until our solar system will change dramatically in ages to come.

Additional, there is a clear limit to what earth can take on human population – the verse in Gen 1,28 of the bible “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” might find a line drawn into the sand now.

We not only have allowed to continue our path of destruction – millions of people elect and support politicians and leaders worldwide, who simply deny climate change – who simply ignore the well-being of nature for greed and power reasons. And this ignorance is entangled in the whole question of white male dominance, which makes it even harder to tackle. Add to this the birth control debate within, for example, a church with 1.2 billion faithful: then you get a full picture of what we are facing.

Much of it applies to Covid-19 and other virus related incidents, where transition from animal to human occurs. We are all aware that nature has its own life full of bugs, not really hurting their animal hosts. We come closer, we destroy their habitat and ignore their rightful place in our world and force them to find another place to live – with deadly consequences.

We as humans are our own worst enemies – no other creature in this world is more destructive, more ignorant and more willing to go the extra mile on a path which will end with a new dawn without human beings. Those who have the most maybe will survive a bit longer – but all money, all greed, all power of the world will not prevent the final outcome.

The alternative is really to change course dramatically and radically – but not naive, as one hears it sometimes from younger activists who mean good but don’t overlook always the whole picture. But the mix of young and not so young activism with the wisdom of more matured and experienced professionals can open a new chapter for humanity. It can end the “keep it up” strategy and turn lots of words and promises from political and economical leaders into meaningful actions.

We are as humanity in this together – no country can go it alone, no government can solve it alone – which also means to strengthen political bodies like the UN and other international entities. We need a universal “mea culpa” and the intelligence to choose our leaders wisely in this respect. Furthermore, we can’t afford to have those proclaiming their country first, we can’t allow for those more concentrating on stealing from the public purse, and we can’t allow any more for those in charge, who prefer ideology and “the party is always right” instead of a public discourse allowing all meaningful voices to be heard.

And we need the buy-in of churches and religious institutions – make no mistake: Most of them are more involved in the economic deals of current times than we want to admit and acknowledge. Amassing wealth is certainly an important goal of many so-called “prophets” and prosperity churches; and also the mainstream churches are not immune when it comes to investments. Here also, a “mea culpa” would be appropriate and a new outlook needed.

Whatever the future will hold: nobody can say, we have not been warned many times.

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

“Trotzdem” – Hell no!

I guess those living in South Africa feel the rollercoaster of emotions having experienced not only the continuous lockdown related to Covid-19 but also the looting and burning and destruction which marred KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng, leading to a breakdown of public order for a couple of days. A state who definitely failed to protect its citizens and only late intervened; ministers who simply displayed being clueless and not up to the task and incompetent added to the concerns many have about the state of affair in South Africa.

From all is clear, that the fight within the ANC party can and will spill over to society and that party politics simply don’t care about the country, willing to hurt and destroy for the sake of winning the battle of fractions within this party.

And even looking at the latest shuffle of ministers in national government – it is playing musical chairs within the governing party but not the coup starting to liberate South Africa from the claws of corruption, incompetence, cadre deployment or their likes.

For somebody building a campus in the midst of a township offering health and education on a developmental path, the question arises once in a while whether this is worth the effort. What can one achieve in a country, where government and ruling party is in battle with itself, where wannabe revolutionaries steer the flames of racism and clearly advocate violence as a political tool; and where frustration, failed education systems and hopelessness lead to more violence, service delivery protests and actions out of anger and bitterness.

The answer to the question is not easy. On one hand, one could pack and walk away. Another possibility is to stay and reason your efforts with the German word “trotzdem“.

At the heart of “trotzdem” is the word “trotz”, which surely is very German; a harsh word meaning defiance; it triggers the feeling and action of “Hell no!” – I will not do it!
It is basically a somehow stubborn or holy resistance – a resistance to accept the doomsday scenarios while at the same time standing up and offering an alternative way into the future. I personally think it is also a theological word, looking how in the bible – especially in the Old Testament – God is described who never gives up on human mankind.

So building the campus “The Nex – Indawo Yethu” in the township of Delft – a place featuring high on the scale when it comes to crime statistics, unemployment and like often in South Africa a lack of decent education – together with many partners and collaborators and investing in vocational training and health holistically is a social, political and theological statement of “Hell no!”

And strongly believing that it is never too late to turn the tide, to stop cutting the corners of development, to cease cadre deployment and corruption and to liberate society from racism and other woes impeding progress and healing. And a perspective for every decent South African who deserves to live in freedom and security. It needs a network of all those small little places of hope and confidence that life has more to offer than what may experience on a daily basis being kept dependent on handouts and charity.


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