God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

“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, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , ,

Exciting times for the Roman-Catholic Church

We are meanwhile used since the advent of the pontificate of Pope Francis that conservative and circles of the Roman-Catholic Church are falling into opposition to the man on top of the church’s hierarchy.

First very decent the choir of discontent and the wish to embalm tradition and keep the church from moving through the times even closer to the divine mysteries; now you hear screams and public discontent which in the times of John-Paul II would have had severe consequences if you would have been a priest or an employee of the church.
Times have changed and even the slightest acknowledgement of human development from the Vatican seems for some to constitute heresy on Peter’s throne. Footnotes in papal writings trigger storms of indignation in certain circles of the church.

And now the Synod Way of the German Bishops Conference and the implementation of a local Synod in the Diocese of Trier give way to another onslaught of staunch self-described Catholics who know the truth, who know the ways of God and who know exactly how salvation is achieved for human mankind. Prescribed since the old ages and seemingly never able to develop – let alone to change.
It seems that those fighting against any new insight forget how slavery was once normal for the church, how religious freedom or even democracy originated from the devil – let alone that the earth was the center of the universe….
Theology, once the crown jewel of academia is for those people sentenced to withstand research and new knowledge contradicting or expanding the bases for religious notions.

Indeed exciting times – and maybe the word ‘diversity’ would help us to understand that there is nothing wrong in feeling at home in different religious settings within the broader church.  Maybe the word ‘tolerance’ would prescribe a way to understand that my way of believing is in many instances unique and that there is a framework in which we are all allowed to prosper and indulge in coming closer to the divine and the mystery of God.

And maybe listening to each other instead of judging each other, allowing for questions of variance and doubt, not using sacraments as weapons or punishment and seeing the good, the divine in every brother and sister would help us to move forward – allowing for those who want to remain a bit behind and those who want to stray forward to still feel being part of the same church, the same group of faithful.

Filed under: Catholic Church, Reflection, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,

Catholic Church: mysticism and reality in the times of the abuse scandal

abuseA lot is written about the meeting of bishops in Rome on the topic of child abuse – and the reactions were as diverse as people seeing the problem with different eyes:
for some the conference was a milestone as for the first time the Catholic Church took on the monster of child abuse head on admitting the cancer spreading since a long time within its ranks. For others it was more of a talk shop and they would have expected clear-cut rules and regulations how to deal with the past, the presence and the future. Obviously the topic was and is also used by those wanting either to preserve or yearning for change in the church: for the latter, child abuse is only a consequence of clericalism and a hierarchy which seems to have a meaning in itself while for those wanting to preserve the might and power of the Catholic Church homosexuality within the clergy is the core element of triggering abuse.

For me there is no question that the exaggeration of heavenly powers for those up the hierarchy, the wish of protection of the good name of the church, the failing to acknowledge that mysticism of faith has to be based in the realities of the people, the choosing of bishops and cardinals who would just go blindly along with everything said and done from the top without hesitation, the neglect of the synodality of the church in favor of a medieval rigid papal and curial system as promoted by John-Paul II has fostered a climate where child abuse was condoned, covered up and for some even encouraged as the most what could happen was to be moved to another place with ample opportunities to continue the horrible deeds. Child abuse is the consequence of a church system which gave rise to clericalism in all forms and shapes.

It seems that not all got the message – looking at statements from Cardinal Burke and Brandmueller and judging by other statements of right-wing and so-called conservative people within the church child abuse is taken as the scenario to fight modern ideas. And obviously the all-present fight against homosexuality which seems to be the pinnacle of all woes the church is in according to this fraction of the church. Being in an almost all-out war for the direction of the Catholic Church for the years to come, the abuse of the abuse is a convenient tool to fight for the return of the “Holy Mother” to the good old times where hierarchy was clear and the laity obeyed without doubts. And that would leave us with some misguided priests – rotten apples – to be forced to leave so that  church business can continue as it has been since ages.

As much as I can understand the yearning for an environment clearly defined in a world which is so confusing; as much as I can understand the insecurity of so many brothers and sisters in this mad world of so many choices and fast developments – we as church have to be at the cross-road of mysticism and reality.

The reality is that life is developing as is our understanding of the world and of the meaning of life – church can only be relevant if it keeps up with this development by at the same time preserve the mystical and inner core of its message:
This world has a meaning, we are part of a divine plan which is so much bigger than we can think of. It means to keep the fire burning in our hearts and minds towards a future we only can believe in without knowing all the facts – love, hope and faith are the components of this mystical inner yearning which promises to make at the end sense of our journey on earth.

At all times the church has tried to spell out this hope, which for us Christians become human and manifest in Jesus, with the tools and the knowledge available at that time. Looking back in history the church was often at the forefront of academia and developments but it is human nature that success can make one getting more slow and luscious and often also unwilling to accept new insights which would contradict its chosen path. So we have to catch up on reality and insight – living and preaching within the realities of life today without losing this mystical component of our human inner being –  in our days often is seen in the spirituality of people lived outside of official churches.

Keeping the divine fire burning in every human being while traveling in the modern world with all the new knowledge and the constant changes in possibilities is an art  – but the only art possible to survive as a church. And it means to acknowledge, expose and correct the wrongs of the past and to work openly and transparent on the new way forward.

For the question of child abuse it means to look honestly and without any reservation at the crimes committed or allowed to be committed, to hold those having failed responsible without regard to position or standing in the church and to make sure that this never happens again. There is, besides the deeds of single people a systematic failure we also have to acknowledge which means that we have to re-work aspects of the “system”church without betraying the core message of unconditional love of God which allows for life to flourish and develop. The questions of how we deal with sexuality in all forms and equality of man and woman are only some of the questions we have to tackle here and now to make sure the evil of child abuse has been brought to an end.

 

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

Silence is sometimes indeed the best way to reflect

Since my last post about the child abuse in the Catholic Church the revelations have not stopped but intensified. While right-wing media like kath.net”” in Germany and “LifesiteNews” abuse the opportunity to a full-scale war against Pope Francis and moderate cardinals also their defenders up-ed their involvement of poking holes in the arguments and (fake) news of their opponents.
I guess all of this will not solve the problem which is much deeper than most current debate allows for.
The elephants in the room are power, ideology, clericalism and the question of sexuality. And knowing what we know now also the question of sainthood for John-Paul II which was rushed without any need but done under the pressure of those trying to cement the Polish way of understanding church and faith.
If our church will have a chance in the future – it will be only feasible if and when those topics are honestly and with the participation of all concerned will be addressed. Otherwise the shadow of a living church – more an ideology of creed will pretend to be the church of Jesus Christ.
Looking at the evangelical churches of the USA supporting and condoning everything their current president is doing, gives us a glimpse into our future if we are not able to hold in, reflect and let the spirit work.

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

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