God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

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, , , , , , , , ,

in between travels

Traveling between Europe and South Africa sees in the moment a clear competition: which country has the most outrages politicians, the most stupid public debates avoiding the real question of long term sustainability of our societies and environments. Adding the big brother from the US sometimes one even does not know how to close ears and eyes from all the thunder of underdeveloped ideas. Add some blue haired so called influencer and the panopticum of political and social surrealism matches Salvador Dali’s paintings or even goes further.

What is it that people are losing their minds and running either behind a single messiah with short term memory or flocking behind the easy black/white solutions which never will solve any of our complex problems. Or, like we see more and more in South Africa, use violence and intimidation to get what one wants and just now without delay.
My guess is still that the anxiety over an overwhelming digital and digital connected world makes people being so afraid that they even intelligence don’t stop the degradation into instincts learned as we still walks as Neanderthals this earth.  We are in the mental stone-age of the digital revolution – and we behave like it on almost all levels of societies – it’s like a pandemic running its course and nobody really notices and if, one looks at it like the rabbit in front of the snake: don’t move – freeze!

The sacredness of life, the beauty of living this earth, the diversity of nature, the freedoms so many people fought and died for – all those are becoming victims of this point in time.  And churches, so much busy with themselves and their own history of failings trying to maintain a bit of moral order are not realizing that the real questions have moved so much further from the question what happens in the bedrooms of people.

Well, this weekend we are celebrating Pentecost – we celebrate the good Spirit of everything living and existing on this earth, in this universe – and maybe looking at the scale this compares to the aforesaid problems might enable us to put things again into perspective. This Spirit has three virtues: faith, hope and love – and maybe bringing them to the forefront again there might be a way out of our seemingly endless circles of short and inadequate answers – hope, faith and love are long-living – they are channels to life and to freedom we urgently need to rediscover.

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

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

South Africa: the role of churches in the times of uncertainty

For people in South Africa, 2019 will mark again the time, when elections are due and with hundreds of parties already registered the fight for parliamentary seats – associated with power and money and influence – it begins to show its ugly face in so many ways. The biblical promises of a land where milk and honey are streaming is taken by countless politicians and taken to a society which is penetrated by a seemingly unsolved past, accusations of racism, insufficient quality of education, corruption, incompetence, cadre deployment and economical stagnation – a list which could be continued for a longer time.
The fabric of society has huge cavities and distrust, the question of compensation and entitlement lingers in the air and one only has to look at the neighboring Zimbabwe to see where it could end.

And I ask myself: what is the role of the church in such uncertain times? When I look around churches are covering the fields of moral and ethics – they fight against what they perceive threats against God’s will for the people – some churches play with the people and promise heaven on earth and proclaiming the “gospel of wealth” – not to speak from all those charlatans who simply abusing educated and uneducated people for financial gain. The field is very mixed, but let us concentrate on the main stream churches and those serious about building faith.

From my point of view and seeing what I see the most important task in 2019 would be to become a safe space for telling stories, for bringing people of all walks of life and all skin colors together to really and deeply listening to each other and so repair the fabric of society and allow for healing. I truly believe that being a conduct for understanding each other, walking in the shoes of each other, seeing with the eyes of the other would be service to this country. No discussion about race or racism, no debate about politics, no lectures what we have to do or not to do –  but listening to each other in a safe and structured way – sharing life and receiving life – being the place of encounter and healing.

If every parish, every religious community would start to become such a place of listening, healing and true encounter it could present that kind of coming together without any hidden agenda our society needs to develop a future where nobody is left behind. And being such a place does not cost anything – no expensive technical apparatus, no big resources, maybe some training for those leading such coming together.

The churches serving as sacred grounds for healing – this is in my view the most important task in the times of uncertainty. And it does not have to be big groups or the masses – like leaven will pockets of healing grow and change at the end distrust in trust, confrontation in understanding – and so allow also for a redress which is fair and open to the future for all.

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

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