God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

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

Can a Catholic vote for Trump?

I know:
This might be a strange or even outrages question to ask but it is one which drives me since month being a Catholic priest and watching US politics from afar, talking to US American citizens and seeing the ripple effect of US American politics changing the way the world used to work and the value system attached to it.
This might also be a strange question insofar as religion or faith should not prescribe for any voter whom he or she in her conscious decision decide to vote into office. Politics can be a dirty business, there is no one in this field who can claim for himself or herself a halo of sainthood during holding office. And it is good practice in many countries, that pastors or churches can’t give and should not give guidance to their flock whom to vote for in the sacred duty of electing office bearers.

There are indeed often many different political solutions and most of them have a sort of bloom hovering over them – there are so many different ways to see a matter and to decide a matter.
So my question is not touching on policies of a party; it does not question superficially the party affiliation of Catholics. For me the question is much deeper located as the current President of the United States has proven to  use lies and distortion as tools of governance, and he is clearly living in a world of his own – accused of racism and being a womaniser. Reading his tweets paints a perfect picture of the man in office.

So the question is:
How much of lying and self-absorption is allowed for the highest office, a democratic country has to offer?
Where is the limit when those faculties interfere with the greater good of a democratic society in a way damaging exactly these goods and the values attached to human decency, democracy and human rights?

I took note in the last days on social media that prominent Catholics for Trump argue his stance of pro-life as the all overriding factor – in my humble opinion ignoring that being pro-life not starts and ends with pregnancy but should include the track record touching on environment, asylum seekers, death penalty, racism and many more topics where life is threatened. Honesty, respect are other pro-life values not to be missed out.

The social teaching of the Catholic Church gives the state a positive moral function as an instrument to promote human dignity, protect human rights and build the common good. Its purpose is to assist citizens in fulfilling their responsibility to others in society. In today’s complex society citizens need the help of government to fulfil these responsibilities and to promote the common good.
In the times of Covid-19 the role of government has even become more crucial in guiding and unifying people and sectors of society. The ethics of solidarity will become in the future a much stronger pillar of Catholic social teaching – a solidarity which will have to override purely national interests in the connected world of today.

So once again the questions:
Where do we draw the line as Catholics believing in the sanctity of life, in encountering Christ in every fellow man and women, seeing the imprint of the divine not only in every brother or sister of the human race, but also in our environment, in nature and creation with all the diversity it entails?

Where do we draw the line observing abuse of a position in a society with democratic values, when exactly those values are undermined, annulled and circumvented – while at the same time God is invoked numerous times and a way forced to get a photo op in front of a church using police, tear-gas and force – bible firmly hold in hand?

There should be a line in the sand…

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

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, , , , , , ,

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