God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Signs of the times for the Roman-Catholic Church

I am not sure how to explain the feeling when convictions, you are holding deeply in yourself suddenly are voiced officially and formally in the church, you are serving since more than 30 years. It is not even a triumphant feeling – that would anyhow be much too early, looking at the universal Catholic Church – but it is a relief that thoughts, you were punished for, ideas which were forbidden to speak out lout (like the ordination of women priests under John-Paul II) are not any more only whispered in the dark corner of the church.

Participation of laity when it comes to the election of Bishops, gender equality within the church – and yes, it means all genders; ordination for women, celibacy as choice. A clear jump to overcome the Middle Ages and to arrive as the pilgrims finding their ways through the times into the 21st century.

Obviously we are not there yet, but knowing that German theology had always an impact and is indeed well reasoned and studied, there seems to be suddenly light at the end of a very dark tunnel. There will be now a forceful stand-off of those wanting to remain in the past. And there will be a decision to be made whether the universal Catholic Church allows for a synodal way forward which also strengthen the local churches and gives them the leverage to own decisions on certain levels; or whether the institution is imprisoned in the thought that all must do the same. Diversity in Unity would be the catchphrase; and the Orthodox Church gives us examples of this diverse unity based on baptism and creed.

While the dirty truth about child abuse continues to rage in the church, especially in the German church currently, it opens the view clearly on structural sins of power, male dominance and tons of “brothers in the fog” as the late Cardinal of Cologne described the priestly abusers he and others covered up. Many countries have gone through the discoveries of abuse and many churches in Africa have not even started to look deeply into their own backyards; the German church might be the one which later will be attributed the courage to name and shame the wounds and draw the necessary consequences.

There will be lots of oppositions within the church; there might be more splits and division, but this is part of the process of transformation. There will be the exposure of big gaps between different theologies and pastoral practices when it comes to Europe and Africa. We should not be afraid of all of this. The Catholic Church has waited too long to walk the talk about the values of participation, democratic rule, gender equality being advocated for others but internally rejected those values for their own institution.

Let’s be clear: this is not a German revolution. Think of the Amazon Synod, which also was thought-provoking in their requests. It is about taking seriously the sensus fidei , which was also highlighted in the German Synod text about the framework of its own reflections. It is about taking seriously the synodal church as envisioned by Vatican II; being somehow covered up and almost made forgotten in the times of Johannes-Paul II and Benedict XVI. In many ways, we now start to understand and try to explore the deeper sense of what was said in the sixties of the last century. And if Paul VI would not have forbidden certain discussions, the church would have moved certainly faster into the realities of the 21st century.

Another clarification: All discussions don’t touch on the essential of the good news: the unconditional love for all people, the promise of a meaning in life and the certainty that we are part of a much bigger and divine picture we constantly have to discover anew. The bible is full of stories of people exactly doing this: discovering that understanding and pictures of the divine changes, that the divine touches their lives in ways unexpected; the bible is a book of transformation from Abraham till Jesus. The “word of God” as it is liturgically often called, is not set in stone, but it is set in the hearts of a diversity of humans, we in the church call ‘the sons and daughters of God’. And the church as an institution and a living entity should encourage this living and developing connection between the world and divine. This can be scary at times for many, but diving in the deepest question of existing is not for the faint-hearted.

I often in this day’s think of the first apostles and specifically Peter, who had also to learn that the spirit of God showed him, that his understanding of how things should work, was thrown out of the window. Think of Acts 10:44-48, or think of what we call the first council in Jerusalem.

We live in exciting times for the church, we live in painful times too and in uncertain times. And exactly this uncertainty tends to support the motion to keep the known and to not jump into the unknown. I am convinced that we don’t have a chance but to move if we want to remain relevant as a church. We don’t have to move all in the same speed as a church and within the church, but we have to walk, sooner or later, to keep meaning to our message for this world. Otherwise, we will become a self-serving institution with no relevance for humanity.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, 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, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , , ,

Blessing question

The answer of the Vatican to the question whether the Catholic Church can bless same-sex partnerships has created quite some waves of outrage in all corners of the church. Even bishops and highranking officals show signs of incomprehension. Signature lists are making the round and statements are published.

I understand the outrage but I have to say: The answer relies on a sexual moral, I have questioned already in my book with B.Grill ” Gott-Aids-Afrika” in 2007. Offically nothing really has changed and the church unfortunately is still ages away from understanding the newest academic knowledge about how sexuality is defined and lived.

i renew my call to develop the teaching and to listen to the sister of faith, which is academia and knowledge. Both lead closer to God. Resisting to understand and implement new insights into theology does not serve the people of God, nor the church as an institution.

And until then I will bless love whenever I am asked, I will accompany my brothers and sisters, be they straight or queer; I strongly believe they all are meant to be a blessing for society. I will listen to my calling to embrace them and their situation and trying to be a vessel of God’s unconditional love for each one.

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

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