God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

The sound of silence

I don’t know how you as the reader have experienced the last 14 months – for me, I can say I have had times when silence was the only answer I could give to all the challenges I saw appearing on a daily basis.

There was the challenge of the small little bug threatening to disrupt life in a massive way – so many things we took for granted were suddenly gone – and the freedoms we naturally enjoyed curtailed in ways not seen in my lifetime. And as much as it made sense in the beginning, there was always that voice of concern that democracy and civil rights seemed to be very vulnerable and the abuse of power by politicians a real opportunity.

Covid-19 also was the mirror where humanity could see all the failures, gaps and injustices it got so much used to; the vaccination story tells us about a still colonial mindset on both parts – those in the first world donating freely after securing their very own, but also the begging of African leaders while hiding the failures of their own doing, corruption and incompetence. For South Africans, the Covid-19 story will always be connected to a mind-boggling corruption not leaving out the Minister of Health and the department, tasked to save lives and not to play with them. But also Germany had its scandals in this regard; the temptation of power and money is universal…

Having to travel in the midst of a pandemic and often to deal with unreasonable rules and people, who seemingly have lost their minds in theories on COVID-19 and vaccination defeating any reason and departing from the possibility of meaningful discussion, adds fuel to the challenges on the road. The frustration of people and the trauma caused by all the lockdown rules will accompany us for a long time to come.

As a church person the ongoing discussions over child abuse, the refusal of many within the church to understand the depth of hurt and the cheer unbelievable clinging to power in Diocese of Cologne as an example simply added to the rollercoaster of feelings in the last month. Covid-19 has obviously put churches and their relevance for society on the spot – and we can expect more discussions on this topic as we go forward.

Obviously, as chair of the HOPE Cape Town Trust building a campus in the midst of a pandemic where funders and sponsors are fighting for their own survival has its own challenges; still, I am encouraged by the willingness of many to continue support and to encourage in all ways possible. For me, this goodwill is indeed a counterforce to all challenges mentioned.

The sound of silence – being able to switch of all the noise and to withdraw into the silence of your very own, to listen to the whisper of your inner voice confirming who you are and what you stand for – and what really counts in life – this might be the only point of reference to conquer the challenges of our times.

I strongly believe that you can find a meaning or a teaching or a hint or a message in any situation if you are able and willing to go back to your own roots and convictions. Covid-19 might be a great teacher in this regard. There is a chance that we as individuals come out much stronger than we thought – and this strength can be used to contribute to the well-being of society and humanity.

Filed under: General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Travelling in Covid-19 times

Queuing for an antigen test is an almost daily exercise

“Yes, a valid antigen test has to be provided every 48 hours”, so the receptionist when I tried to check into my next hotel. “But” he continued, my 24-hour-old test from another province does not count. And no, no room without this test – and obviously I should consider myself lucky that after an 8-hour drive there is still almost an hour to go before the testing centre in town closes its doors and I have to sleep in my car… Lucky me!

Breakfast – well officially business travellers are allowed to have buffet in the breakfast room and tourists not, but I get explained that it is easier to deny everybody the breakfast room – then they don’t have to ask who is falling under which category. Makes sense – and you can pick up your paper back at reception- whatever is in you eat…

Federalism means every province or “Bundesland” does make its own little rules – what is allowed in one city is not allowed in another city; one learns as one goes along. This applies also for the antigen testing: in one city it can only be done via throat swap, the next insists of nasal exploration – and here, where I am currently, both must be done. Not to forget that every testing station has its own system of catching data – and they don’t talk to each other – app spaces are getting tight on the cell-phone.

But besides all this I should be lucky to travel – even I have to admit that it is at times difficult to understand the reaction of my fellow Germans – frustrated by months after months of lockdown, bad weather and closed shops and restaurants. This is changing now: I can vouch that the outside restaurant facilities can be used as a new main attraction – mainly by appointment and with a fresh 24-hour antigen test – and I can tell you: sitting in the rain under a sun umbrella, water slowly congregating where you sit or creeping slowly on head or shoulders is fun – especially if you add wind and cold to it. Yes, Germany has changed….

What frightens me most is hearing about policing each other, neighbours calling the police if you have too many visitors and the divide between those, who obey religiously and those opposing the measures as “Querdenkers” or alike. It almost feels like my travel in the USA during Trump times – a deep divide with no room for the middle ground.

I honestly don’t know exactly what to make out of it – and if there are really lessons to be learned for the future. Most people talk about those lessons – but somehow I have the feeling that everybody is simply yearning for the good old times which ended in March 2020 with the first lock-downs.

Like in South Africa, also in Europe democracy took a hit and the easiness to degree new rules and control citizens is in itself worth a reflection. I guess we all realised how quick in current times liberties can be revoked; hard fought for rights can disappear overnight and how vulnerable our systems are: economically and democratically.

Suddenly, the yellow vaccine passport becomes the new ticket to freedom of movement – and as it is with the so-called “South African mutant” hysteria can cut off people indefinite or put restrictions on them which are neither reasonable nor conductive to human rights and business between countries. There is so much needing more consideration and less anxiety; there is so much which needs adherence to reason and not assumptions.

A last observation is that certainly those who have less in this world are again the losers of the pandemic – inequality remains rampant and the run of the first world towards vaccines while fending off those outside is a clear indication that human mankind continues to fall short to understand, that in some questions and challenges we are all in together as humans.

Filed under: General, Society and living environment, 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, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Travel woes

Trying to travel in the times of Covid-19 becomes more and more a nightmare, especially when you come from a so called high-incidence area like South Africa – where the incidence of currently 11.9 and a recovery rate of over 95% constantly is obviously a major threat to European countries dealing with incident rates average between 100 and 300. It is an interesting experience to be a pariah of the world, only because South Africa did something right – which is seldom enough in our days – namely sequencing the existing virus genomes and making the world aware of a mutation which popped up in other countries as well and threatens e.g. with its 1% occurrence in Germany obviously this country in its core.

Trying to reach Europe from Cape Town is becoming a nightmare: airlines stop flying and entry is practically not allowed for those coming from the danger zone of open restaurants, hotels, shops and with level 1 lockdown almost normal life adhering to hygiene, masks in public and distance keeping.

But seriously:

The Robert-Koch-Institute in Germany keeps South Africa on all danger lists possible since last year – and till now only a court in Baden-Württemberg has dared to state, that this institute has not provided any valid reason for asking local governments in Germany to enforce extended quarantine for people returning from South Africa.

Those daring to fly to South Africa suddenly realise how politics can paint a picture of a country which has nothing to do with reality. Politics, which destroys without any visible regret a very important sector of South Africa’s economy, namely tourism, and pushes the country even deeper into trouble on many levels.

Fear and trying to be a Nanny state dictates currently German politics – add to it the urge to always have a perfect solution for a problem and inventing rules for it, then you have the perfect mix for disaster looming. Listening to those in charge you get the impression that they really think they can beat a pandemic. You simply can’t do this -you have to live with it – and you have to find ways to counter it in a way which balances the freedom of people and the needs of a healthy democracy with the threat posed by the virus.

Looking at the vaccine drives and the distribution of vaccines in the world, there is the other assumption for which Europe is falling: vaccinating their own people first will help. The pandemic is only under control if the virus is kept at bay all over the world at the same time. There is no first winner – even trying to curb travel will not lead to the final goal of co-existing with the virus on a level not really being a threat to humans.

Pandemics are a serious threat for human mankind and the systems, humans are working within; anxiety and fear are definitely not the best advisors nor is it to look only at virology for answers. Social sciences, the psychological impact as well as the economic impact are as important to balance and listen to. Time to reconsider as well as to reflect what governments are obliged to do and where the individual citizen remains in charge of his or her own destiny. Our highly complex societies and their interactions need different answers as we are currently able to give.
And like it or not:
Despite the failure regarding the vaccine story and the attempts to abuse the pandemic for political gains and transformation, for the time being South Africa handles the pandemic better than Europe.

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

Fool’s Day – on a serious note…

Today, 1st of April is “Fool’s Day” – a day known to be littered by the attempt to trick somebody in believing something which is factually wrong – a hoax so to speak. So people are fooled in what they see or hear. And maybe this year there are reasons for reflecting more seriously on the meaning of this day:

Looking at the world of today – I can only say that it seems Fool’s Day is a permanence in our days – certainly for different reasons in different areas but nevertheless a continuum of notice. Some examples of note:

Starting in South Africa: Listening to the ANC NEC decision about Ace Magashule – South Africans are certainly taken for a ride looking at the long time, a political Mafioso and an accused corrupt politician remained and now remains in power for the next 30 days – the damage this man and his fraction has done is substantial and no ordinary citizen would be afforded the same kindness.

Staying by kindness and looking at the Zondo Commission and former President Jacob Zuma – again no ordinary citizen would be afforded to ignore and even attack a legal entity continuously and avoid consequences for so long; let alone justice for bringing South Africa to the knees in his time on the helmet of the state. But obviously it is difficult for a party which has lived beyond the expiry date in the current shape to insist that the law takes it course.

Vaccines are another topic were not only but also South Africa has a share in a prolonged Fool’s Day. Recall the President and the Minister of Health with all tamm-tamm and glory inspecting the arriving more than a million vaccines which consequently were not good enough? Mix this with a small study making headlines in South Africa from an academic, who changed stance within weeks when it was too late and politics had decided to throw away the lifeline for people in the third wave, and you got a good take on a Fools Day episode.

And then a President and Minister of Health suddenly turned into frontline health care worker to get the jab and jumping queue in a phase III trial of J&J now baptised phase one roll-out?

Meanwhile, South Africa is on the back burner still waiting to see the advent of a roll-out while the chair of the MAC for vaccines tries desperately to justify the not justifiable, arguing in an opinion piece in a way contradicting himself.

But staying with Covid-19 and the fall-out: Europe and my home country Germany also keeps Fool’s Day alive. Germany continues to ban South Africans to enter the country and those Germans who make it from South Africa must go in prolonged quarantine – an incidence rate of 12.9 is more dangerous than one of hundred and more – and a mutant, which is only discovered in South Africa but present also in other countries is taken as a reason for the unreasonable political decision. Only one High Court in the province of Baden -Württemberg has meanwhile ruled that this does not make sense. But this non-sense continues to keep South Africans from travelling to almost all European countries and even further up to the Seychelles. There everybody is welcome now for holidays except those coming from South Africa.

But even if you would be able to arrive in Germany – the confusion of what is allowed or not allowed in different parts of the country is mind-boggling – the forward and again backward decisions are beyond comprehension let alone common sense. With all appreciation of a difficult situation politicians find themselves in – what’s happening now is damage to democratic rule and the understanding, that a state is not the nanny for its citizens. Serious questions to be asked when this Fool’s Day time has come to an end.

In the USA – the four-year prolonged Fool’s Day has somehow come to an end – but judgement is still out how it changed the nation of the free or let’s say perceived free. Having said that, the last four years allowed other countries like Russia and China to explore this Day in many ways which harms life, democracy and the freedoms and civil rights, people have fought for and paid with blood in this world.

Lastly looking at my own church: the answer of the Vatican when it comes to blessings of same-sex partnerships also feels for many as a Fools Day joke with a very bitter taste. And the public reaction especially in Germany shows that people are not able and willing to accept this any further. And yes, even the handling of child abuse in the Catholic Church as seen in Cologne had and has the feeling that people were taken for a ride and those who had endured abuse were not really taken serious enough as this topic would require.

Reflecting on all those issues in the context of Fool’s Day maybe requires more than ever what we celebrate on Sunday in my church: Easter – salvation – experiencing a touch of freedom from all those things which don’t take us serious – leading us into a new chapter where we tackle in respect before each other the challenges of life and keeping – or returning Fools Day as a one-day occurrence of light-hearted jokes making us laugh and not cry.

And as Catholics there is a German tradition on Easter: During the sermon on Easter Sunday, the priest has to tell a joke and make the people laugh – they call it the Easter laughter….

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

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