God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

29.08.2009 Religious Leaders Absent in the Anti-AIDS Fight & the POZ initiative

The following article I found today on the website “the body” – and caught my attention:
Religious Leaders Absent in the Anti-AIDS Fight  August 21, 2009
Though they exert great influence in the communities in which they serve, religious leaders are not doing enough to fight HIV/AIDS, said experts at the recent ninth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, held in Bali, Indonesia. “Many religious groups and leaders are unwilling to address HIV/AIDS and make it a priority. Their commitment level is quite low, particularly when compared to the size of their budget and the amount of work they do,” said Donald Messer of the US-based Center of Church and Global AIDS. “We’ve been talking about HIV/AIDS and the religious groups’ response for three decades now. We’re still talking too much even now,” said Fiji’s Dominica Abo. The “most powerful contribution” religious leaders can make is addressing stigma, discrimination, and biases that put groups like women at high risk for the disease. The epidemics impact on women and children needs to be addressed from a faith-based perspective, said the Rev. Youngsook Charlene Kang of the United Methodist Church in the United States, noting that women account for nearly half of all infections worldwide. “We need to call on religious leaders to educate and create new pathways within our churches for parishioners to learn the role that faith communities can play.” Messer noted that many conservative Muslim and Christian groups continue to preach against contraceptives, including condoms, believing they promote promiscuity. “[Yet] when used directly and consistently, condoms are humanity’s best protection and weapon against HIV/AIDS,” he said. “Some religious leaders are more eager to preserve the purity or correctness of theological perspectives than their task to save human lives.”
I guess, that the POZ initiative of HOPE Cape Town and the Justice & Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Cape Town will make a difference and highlight, that we take the fight against stigma, discrimination and bias serious. By working with and for priests, religious and seminarians, who are living with the virus, we address the double stigma of being infected and being infected as a “sacred” person, so to speak.  In this sense we can see a double discrimination – and of course also the bias, as many church leaders do not acknowledge that the pandemic also is amongst us, the clergy.
I am personally thrilled that we got the permission from the local Archbishop of Cape Town to work in this field – and when I will visit the papal council for health care workers end of the year, I will address it and hope that they join hands to work for a transformation from stigma to charisma.

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

31.07.2009 Why is HIV such a dangerous topic in the church?

While reflecting the last weeks on my way and my work with the German speaking Catholic Community and the HOPE Cape Town project, I once again asked myself, why HIV is such a contaminated topic in our RC church?

It is amazing because on the practical side, my church and the churches generally are doing marvellous work and without their engagement, much more suffering would occur. But as soon as you leave the known path of caring for the sick and the dying, a moral minefield seems to open up and at the end, one either shuts up and keeps silent or one has to face the consequences of jeopardizing ones career. It seems to me, that the topic of sexuality is still one of the most difficult topics to discuss in our church, as the church regards itself as the guardian of moral and good behaviour. And here a pandemic kills people of all ages and is connected with the most intimate part of human life: his or her sexuality.

It would be wrong to say that church has not moved in its views about certain aspects of sexuality in the last centuries, but all the developments in this field were done in slow movements. And there was always a lot of anxiety not to let go the higher moral grounds. Seeing the suffering of people every day, it sometimes is very difficult for me as a priest to reconcile the theory of moral teaching with the realities on the ground.  Sometimes I even ask myself, how one ever can bridge the gap between the two. But on the other hand: Should any teaching of the church not assist people to more life, to more happiness, to more joy, to more fulfillment?

At least what I would wish for is that we are able to discuss without fear all options and possibilities to combat this pandemic in all openness and seriousness. Without being put in one corner or the other – it seems to me, that one can only be a fanatic for or against the famous condom – but there is so much more we have to discuss and explore. A serious debate, that I wish for in the month and years to come, to find ways serving human mankind in the most beneficial and realistic way. And I am looking for a theology of HIV and AIDS, integrating the pandemic and finding ways to turn the stigma of HIV and AIDS into a charisma. Too much asked?

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Reflection, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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