God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

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, , , , , , , ,

After weeks of silence..

After some time of silence and reflecting on the situation of the Roman-Catholic Church – reading through tons of articles, opinion pieces and so-called news I must admit that I am not so much surprised about discovering, that for quite a lot of prelates, bishops, priests and dignitaries their faith is rather formed by ideology and power play – I have seen and experienced too much in my own priestly life to not to know about the inner-workings of the church.  Living through a far too long pontificate of a Polish pope followed by brief intermezzo of a German one, trying to restore a church lived before the second Vatican council we were almost a paralyzed church when the “Buona Sera”of Pope Francis somehow gave a hint of a new dawn – and a new life-line for a cooled down church.

What surprises, even what I am nauseated by is the abuse of the abuse for power gains in my church today. The inability of the Roman Catholic Church to rid itself from the daemon of child abuse is hard to swallow. The inability to confront patriarchy and to deal with power and sexuality and the slow awareness that prayer, fasting and apologies are not good enough anymore takes its toll, but the keen abuse of this process to attack a pope and to resist reform is breath-taking.
Without shame those who under JP II and Benedict XVI have attacked anybody who dared to speak out or dared to voice concern about papal statements now have no problem themselves to ride one attack after another against the current pope.

Faith and religion seems for them to be an end in itself instead of a way to assist in fostering a relationship between humans and the divine – faith as a fixed and unchangeable instead of a fluent and intimate relationship, which needs the community of saints and sinners rather as a conduit. Or even clearer spelled out: church as a play field for exercised power and might instead of serving the needs of those we call faithful.

I guess like the world in general is at the end of an old area walking with all the challenges and somehow blindsided into a new chapter of human development, so also churches and especially the oldest player in the Christian field can not escape this shaping in the coming of the new dawn and realization what it means to be human and what is needed to tackle the challenges lying in front of us. So maybe the abuse of the abuse can be turned into a blessing in seeing clearer the mistakes and failures of the past and allow for walking forward with renewed trust that our lives have a meaning and that faith and religion is here to assist, to help and to allow the promised freedom, the magnificent freedom we are promised in the scriptures, to live a life to the fullest. Looking at it in this manner can be a liberation in itself and a starting point for a renewed church where tender love, endless hope and trusted faith as well as equality and dignity of all are at the forefront of what we believe in.

 

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, , , , , ,

Drought and Water scares

Meanwhile it is almost known in every corner of the global village that the Western Cape is facing a severe drought and that Cape Town might be the first big city completely running out of water. Emotions are flaring high and accusations are flying into all directions: local government, the people of Cape Town, the system, the complicated spheres of government, national government – everybody is able to pick up his or her argument to blame others for the crisis.

I guess it is a typical scenario where half truth are used to cover up own faults – its human to pick what serves my argument:

Yes, it is correct that there was a severe drought for 3 years in a row – but since years there is talk of a desalination plant and done was really nothing.
Yes, it is correct that the water use of some people is unreasonably high – but you can’t expect that people realize the severity when you played your cards of counting down to day zero already last year and it did not happen
Yes it is correct that national government is obviously reluctant to assist an opposition governed province, but honestly, opposition took government officials so often to court in the last years but failed on this one badly.

So I would say that bad planing, bad coordination, bad politics and bad habits here joined hands to get to the situation as is in the moment. Responsibility lies with government officials to  lead the way out of crisis – and there is the next problem: with all the finger-pointing and in-fights there is no real leadership – dealing with citizens like school kids does not help nor creating a situation which will lead to chaos and anarchy and a breakdown of public life as we know it.

The way the water crisis is handled is a dis-service to the people of Cape Town, but also South Africa – it damages not only the reputation but the possibilities to create a better life for all – some soul-searching paired with honesty and fairness to all concerned would assist in getting the situation back on track.  Communication must improve – watching for example Xanthea Limberg as  mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy talking about the situation feels like a detached person taking about a minor problem of technical nature. “Empathy” is the missing word and emotion.

And there is more to say: If the City of Cape Town would have a proper and transparent plan to overcome the situation people would be more willing to engage. For example the drought charge now given up on: If there would be a plan to build a proper desalination plant – given the public plans, figures and timelines with a projected outcome I am sure the support for such a charge would have been overwhelmingly positive. People must see and feel that their money is working for some good in the future. Saying that such a charge makes up for lost revenue because people saved water was quite bad and those who do the marketing of such communication should be fired on the spot.

Millions of people queuing for water every day – no running toilets in office buildings and restaurants – sanitation and health issues as a feasible threat, closing temporarily primary health care facilities as per existing plans – the list is long and time to avoid it is short – instead of continuous finger-pointing I would like to see all responsible to get to work – reflection can come later when there is the appropriate time. Definitely some lessons to learn for the new democracy of South Africa and it’s functioning in real life experience.

And lets be clear: the lack of proper planing and maintenance in the area of water and sanitation also from other provinces and national government  together with climate change will South Africa hit hard if not immediate steps are done to avoid more disaster scenarios in South Africa. And to be honest: as a priest I also miss the vocal and leading voice of churches and interfaith communities: water and access to water is a human right – and yes, one could hear some voices here and there, but not the swell of guiding concerns needed in such a situation.

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

Motherfu@#er – or summarizing an interesting year

Nobody can say 2017 was a boring or uneventful year – it does not matter where you live or work – we were all part of a developing global village story shaking the world to the core. Politically a constant fake news producer, self-styled ego-man, denialist on many fronts and womanizer was elected President of the United States and many people had to learn that between the big cities of the West and East coast are definitely not as progressive as the city dwellers – believing rather what they want to believe instead tackling the challenges and realities on the ground.
In Europe Germany stills waits for a new government to be formed while in Austria a populist youngster seems to be the savior of this country while in Poland and Hungary the right wingers demolish democratic advances and human rights achievements almost systematically. The British playing Brexit chess without knowing really where it will end and the EU searches its way through all the political pitfalls its encountered during the year.

On the African continent the looting of South Africa continued and the brazenness in the face of several court decisions and revelations about those captured by the Guptas only increased as if they would know that their time is running out. Zimbabwe got rid of uncle Bob after a shameless Grace pushed for power while in other African countries there are the usual suspects extending their welcome by changing laws and constitutions. The question of refugees from Africa to Europe continuous to be a matter of grave concern and indicates that problems are not solved but always pushed to the next big political meeting.

In the Roman-Catholic church the opposition against Pope Francis clearly tried to score points in ridiculous ways and the hardly hidden hurt vanity of one cardinal stood out as an example of unhappiness with the current way our church is steered – while Catholics as such are discovering the depth of faith in a new and exciting way – even if mercy is a concept known since the beginning of Christianity.

And all this is mirrored in the social media – where etiquette seems to vanish while emotions are running high. Lots of contributions are lacking respect or brain like this example which I choose to publish because it shows the consequence of having leaders steering those emotions, playing with the uneducated and their sentiments, leading by bad examples or supporting the wave of false or misleading information which results in a mixture of unreasonable demands, non-logical approaches, denial of realities and the fostering of ideologies we thought to have beaten long ago.

So there is undeniable a sort of chaos ruling the world in the moment – with leaders uneasy and seemingly battling to make sense and to come to conclusions beneficial for all.  Democracy seems to take some hits while social media and the change in technology and communication has completely changed the environment people are operating. And if you look to China, where they develop a tracking system for all citizens and plans to work with scores to give or take privileges like loans or traveling, it becomes blatant clear where the challenges for political systems will be found in the years to come.

All this said there is also the acknowledgment that all challenges are also opportunities. Opportunities to resist and grow, opportunities to re-evaluate and correct, to discuss and discern and to move on forging a way for more humanity, more human rights and liberties as well as dignity for everybody. So nothing is doomed or lost at all.

In this context the work of NGO’s and civil right groups becomes so more important to assist in achieving the for-said goals. They are rightly seen as a threat to governments leaning towards dictatorial behavior as seen in Egypt or Russia, let alone China. To support those NGO’s and to value their contribution to a better world remains important when we now go into the next year 2018. Good vetted non-governmental organizations with a proven track record are in the coming years the lifeline to fill and bridge the gaps of governmental work, civil society has to play a much bigger role and charity organizations will be much-needed to continue their work for those many falling through the cracks of organized societies.

So at the end it is a mixed review but not hopeless, it is full of challenges we will have to turn into opportunities – it is a starting pitch for 2018 which will make the work of all interested in humanity exciting, demanding and rewarding at the same time. May it be for as many as possible a blessed year and may the emotions express themselves in a way respecting each other.

 

 

 

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

14th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenNovember 16th, 2019
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Join us @ The Westin in Cape TownMay 18th, 2019
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© Rev Fr Stefan Hippler and HIV, AIDS and HOPE.
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