God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

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

Flatten the curve?

“Flatten the curve” is the slogan to be heard all over the world – and South Africa was following the stringent measurements which keeps society at bay in so many countries. But instead of balanced measurements South Africa opted for the more Chinese approach clamping down as at many movements as possible even prescribing in detail what items could be sold or not when venturing out to go shopping. Police and military was sent out to enforce the lock-down, and they continue to try to stop any unnecessary travel of citizens.
Having a day when death by police brutality wins against the number of death through the Coronavirus certainly tells a story on its own. There are many questions whether physical distancing is working in the high density townships of South Africa, even more whether the ban of cigarettes or fresh air and some exercise really make sense.
But there is another question lingering in the air which is of equivalent or even more important:

Does the “flatten the curve” approach is feasible in a country which just was downgraded to junk status; a country economically falling apart, unemployment on a very high scale, more people on social grants than in work and a national debt exceeding 3 trillion Rand and going up to 4.5 trillion in the next years?
How long can a country, after years of state run corruption and the current constant lingering in no-man’s land of real decision-making in this regard flatten the curve before it is economically and socially broken beyond repair in the lifetime of those anyhow currently struggling?

Virologists tell us that without flattening the curve the death toll would be very high but the virus run out of steam in a couple of weeks while flattening the curve will save thousands of lives and prevent the collapse of the anyhow weakened health system. South Africa has seen in the Aids Pandemic what it means to lose people on a daily base in their hundreds. It can vouch for the tears and pain of an almost lost generation and the ignorance of a government towards its people. This time no one can complain about any ignorance – being prescribed what you can buy is the opposite of ignorance – one almost has the impression, there is never a middle ground in South Africa.

So the question is how to balance all this in a way which makes the most sense? How to take the people with on the journey beating the virus without destroying the future of the country economically?
The Covid-19 pandemic and how to react is a question in the crossroads of economic and ethical questions, it wonders our approach to life and meaning of life. And it certainly makes unmistakable clear that human mankind is not the master of the soil but part of something much bigger, part of the lot which we call the universe.

This is obviously not only a question for South Africa but the world as such. Nevertheless, in a country with its very unique and painful history, its still open wounds of the past and its attempt to walk as a democratic society, the challenge to balance remains.
Authoritarian solutions like in China are not adequate nor copies of the sophisticated European systems – we South Africans should have “ubuntu” as the baseline to find our own way to deal with the curve.

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

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