God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Covid-19 Lockdown & Trauma


Trauma100 days of Lockdown, I have written and tried to summarize it in my last blog – but one topic, which needs to have its rightful place in an extra blog entry is something, most have not spent too much time on:
The trauma, this crisis and the lockdown has caused for most of the people, and the trauma-related consequences as an individual or as a society – in the case of South Africa anyhow adding to all the burden of a past still not healed.

Being threatened by an invisible enemy is already difficult to comprehend for many – but taken out of normal life completely is a complete other category of trauma:

Think of those living alone and suddenly for weeks without real social contact and maybe nobody to turn to;

think of those whose security was family and suddenly they were not allowed to see them, visit them, be with them, when they became sick or even died;

think of those who were exposed to police or military brutality, suddenly made a criminal after a life without any running into trouble with the law.

Think you those who had been forced to live in an abusive relationship for weeks without being able to run away;

think of the nightmares of the kids not really understanding why all is suddenly so different;

think of the people in townships who were asked, often without real explanation to distance themselves from each other, to stay home in a dense environment without income, food or perspective.

Also think of the people in the health sector fighting every day to keep patients alive and feeling at the same time threatened by the small little virus themselves and consequently their loved ones.

Life, as it has been for many born as “free” suddenly changed in a way, they never could have imagined; and those who have lived through wars and famine – how much déjà vu have they experienced in the last weeks. And not to forget here in South Africa all the limitations during apartheid times – again confined, berated, told what to do by politicians so far away from reality and enforced by a security cluster resembling in parts past experiences.

Being helpless and having to surrender to an apparatus run by people who have allowed, willingly participated or gained from the so-called lost years of state capture and corruption in South Africa creates another trauma.

And for those following world politics there is another trauma to add in the shape of a Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Victor Orbán, Rodrigo Duterte and others, showing that human mankind has certainly not reached the point of reasonable development, most of us would have thought we have developed. It’s shocking…

TraumaTrauma must be addressed and worked through – and here would be normally also religious institutions coming into the picture besides the professionals – but the mere absence of leadership in this sector in this time of crisis in so many countries created a trauma itself, but that might be a topic for another time.

Individual and collective traumata – this crisis is so much more than just a health or economic crisis…

 

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

Time to realign…

What the elections of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have indicated looking at how they came to power; what the refugee drama in Europe with the most famous quote of Angela Merkel “Wir schaffen das” has suggested, what “black lives matter” are yearning for since years again and again –  Covid-19 now has confirmed and is confirming in all mightiness:
Our systems are not really holding water not withstanding the dawn of technology and interconnectivity, the human race has not caught up with the challenges it faces in the new millennium on so many levels. It has lost direction and momentum and like on a sinking ship everybody tries to save what he or she deemed important in the times of confusion.
It is not the year 2000 with the magic of heralding a new time in number but the year 2020 which will determine which direction the global village will take and whether it entails a unified human race abolishing the selfishness on so many levels:

As a human race – we have to decide whether we acknowledge each other as equals, or we continue to fight each other as black and white and all the colours in between.
As humans, we have to decide whether we acknowledge being part of the world around us, part of planet earth or whether we want to try to continue pretending to be master of the universe.
As societies, seeing our brokenness we have to decide how we deal with the past, with hurt, pain and memory of the sometimes unspeakable.
As countries, we have to check in again how we are governed and what forms part of our contract between those, we give the power to be our leaders for a period of time.
As individuals, we have to re-assess our values, our commitments, our belief system and our ways of life.

Politicians love to speak of moments in history, of historical times – and I guess, those who have an interest in history have asked themselves often when reading about upheaval of historic proportion how people might have felt or whether they understood the severity of their times. I guess, now we know if we pay attention.

Systems and technology alone will not save us, mighty wannabe leaders with pseudo-messianic aura will turn out like the Pied Piper of Hamelin – there is hard work to do and it has to done on all levels of societies with a strong input of civil societies and religious bodies.
It is time to unite in diversity, to listen to each other, to keep silent with each other to be able to find a sensitive way forward acknowledging the past without being prisoner of what lies behind us. A real new dawn carries the pain and errors of the past like scars, visible but not hurtful anymore, forgiven, but not forgotten.
We need to connect to our roots as the human race while stretching to touch the stars of hope and destiny leading the way forward.

It is a monumental task we are facing as the human race – but there is no alternative. We either face it or we humans will one day in spite of all cleverness be only a footnote in the history of the blue planet living on without us.

 

 

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

Churches, but no hotels, restaurants

Yesterday evening again President Ramaphosa appeared on TV to introduce a day of prayer for South Africa, but also declared religious leaders essential worker and opened up church services under level 3. He did this obviously under strict conditions and with limitations to the amount of people attending.

I feel this decision is health wise premature and when there is one lesson to learn from other countries opening up for church services then it is that those are becoming the hotspots and origin of new clusters. And this in countries where religion is much more organised while here in South Africa every self-declared prophet can open up a church. Adding to the concerns is that in the traditional churches, the age group of worshippers is more and more moving to those which government want to stay home: the over 60.

Obviously we all know that mega churches and some African-Christian churches are a political factor in South Africa – and the push to open up for business again and bring money in the kitty was obvious after the meeting between religious leaders and government last week.

With this decision government leaves again the grounds of the rational decisions  and shows, that all their talk about science and taking advice from other countries is more of a smoke screen.

Most traditional churches were very quiet during the lockdown – while some pastors tried to mitigate poverty and hunger, the official representatives lacked somehow the “option for the poor”  in words and deeds.
The kairos of Covid-19, the reflection of this sign of the times and the chances it offered for a review of worship practice, theological considerations and house churches was often wasted and replaced by video and zoom maintaining status quo.

I missed the voice of churches in the last weeks and months, I also have not seen really lots of theological discernment here in South Africa. And I fear that the opening of places of worship trigger more hotspots than the opening of hotels and restaurants could ever have done. It has to do with the nature of the beast:
Religious ceremonies are not about distancing, they are about hugging, singing, touching, speaking in voices and trance if you are pentecostal – you simply can’t degree a thousand years all practice to change with the 1st of June.

I guess it is a choice of emotions and not science if politics or society allow for worship again – but then justice demands that also other sectors, where indeed livelihoods hang in the balance, can be open under the same strict measures to allow to earn the money, the religious leaders certainly will claim now again from their faithful.

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

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, , , , , , , , ,

Easter means hope

It was amazing to see how many people cheered President Ramaphosa after his last speech where he prolonged the lockdown for South Africa another 2 weeks till the end of April. It seems that the fear of people overwrites all common sense; the question whether lives to be rescued or economy was in the aftermath highlighted as the all decisive question. And obviously for most people the answer was clear cut out: Ramaphosa was choosing life above economical matters.
I don’t share this clear cut assessment: It is not about life or economy – it is about how people survive in a decent and human way after the crisis is fading away. There is no escape from the virus and let’s be honest: the daily figures are relative in South Africa – we test too little and our statistics are at best an indication of direction, the virus takes us. Killing the livelihood of people while battling the virus does not fulfil the aim of the current strategy. The virus will linger on – there is no final defeat and this should be clearly communicated. This virus will live with us and as with all those small little creatures, we have to live and constantly battle it. It’s part of evolution – and we are part of evolution. Human mankind is not the master of evolution.

There must be a balance in a country which suffers already from high unemployment, corruption, failed economical strategies, poverty and a clear disconnect between those ruling and those being ruled. The despair of people in the townships, their inability to keep distance because of population density, the time wise heavy-handed enforcement efforts by police and military speaks volume about all the question marks currently entertained by worried citizens.
It is indeed clear that the virus demands caution, physical distancing, covering mouth and nose and other behavioural adjustments. But with all this must go a realistic hope and a sustained way to keep society economically viable and alive. People must see an exit strategy of a lockdown which is quite unique with its stringent measures here in South Africa. Being told what is essential or not to buy, being – depending on how your living conditions are – deprived of exercise and fresh air, walking your dog, smoking a cigarette (because you are out of stock at home) and all the rest can go only as far as people are willing – out of fear or conviction – to adhere to.
In Europe there are first data showing that people start to question restrictions and politically there is clear talk about how to have an exit strategy for a new reality after Covid-19. An exit strategy means hope – and hope is needed in times of despair. The feast of Easter encourages hope, it tells of a light at the end of the tunnel, it talks about life giving and life saving stories billions of people have used since this man from Nazareth lived and died to keep the flame of hope alive in personal life, but also within the fabric of societies.

Hope always speaks of courage – a courage born out of the promise that life has a meaning and that every life is important and can contribute to the well-being of this world. This hope of Easter overcomes fear and anxiety and leads to new life, a new reality not only after death, but already here and now. This hope must therefore also have consequences how we deal with this crisis.

May this easterly hope guide us through this challenging time and support a way bringing balanced solutions on our way into a so-called new reality after Corona.

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

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