God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Racist teachers remarks…

It sounds familiar in South Africa: accusations of racist remarks, racist deeds or racist intentions are every weeks’ news: schools, companies, institutions – and this time the German International School in Cape Town.

I don’t want to go into the details of this case but look at it from a different and more general perspective:

Accusations fly – then a broader audience takes part – political organisations join in – protests, sometimes violence, and the at a given point the next location, the next scenario, the next accusations. From outside, very often emotions are triggered without even knowing the specifics of a case. For some, those accusations are a welcome motivation to get into fight mode; for others it is the eternal circle of pulling the race card, when all other arguments are lost and nothing is left than taking out the racist hammer to destroy the possibility of serious arguments and search for the truth of the matter.

Maybe it is time to step back and look at the problem of racism, perceived racism, abuse of racism accusation as a weapon of choice from some distance. If we really want to tackle the problem of racism, but also the problem of using it as a weapon, we have to invent a response which is structured and able to look at a case from all sides. Emotions, protest, placards, violence and political grandstanding are poison.

Obviously this only will work if people are willing to confront, assess, acknowledge the problem and if they are really interested in allowing for healing for the sake of a peaceful future. It demands listening skills, acknowledgement of history and a non-judgemental attitude to allow for this acknowledge and healing process. Add to it an open mind and a caring heart, as well as the social and political will to succeed. It requires a protected safe space to allow for honesty and self-reflection,

But: it really should not be facilitated by politicians or state institutions here in South Africa. It should be far away from political parties.
In my humble view, creating this structured approach is a task, proven and acknowledged churches should invest in and called upon. Here, the sacred space could create a practical tool to allow for the process to unfold. Unagitated, serious and non-destructive, but with the clear aim to learn, to overcome and so to put in pillars for a racist-free society. South Africa will only succeed to create a future for all if we are able to do so – and we could once again be an example for the world.

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

The sound of silence

I don’t know how you as the reader have experienced the last 14 months – for me, I can say I have had times when silence was the only answer I could give to all the challenges I saw appearing on a daily basis.

There was the challenge of the small little bug threatening to disrupt life in a massive way – so many things we took for granted were suddenly gone – and the freedoms we naturally enjoyed curtailed in ways not seen in my lifetime. And as much as it made sense in the beginning, there was always that voice of concern that democracy and civil rights seemed to be very vulnerable and the abuse of power by politicians a real opportunity.

Covid-19 also was the mirror where humanity could see all the failures, gaps and injustices it got so much used to; the vaccination story tells us about a still colonial mindset on both parts – those in the first world donating freely after securing their very own, but also the begging of African leaders while hiding the failures of their own doing, corruption and incompetence. For South Africans, the Covid-19 story will always be connected to a mind-boggling corruption not leaving out the Minister of Health and the department, tasked to save lives and not to play with them. But also Germany had its scandals in this regard; the temptation of power and money is universal…

Having to travel in the midst of a pandemic and often to deal with unreasonable rules and people, who seemingly have lost their minds in theories on COVID-19 and vaccination defeating any reason and departing from the possibility of meaningful discussion, adds fuel to the challenges on the road. The frustration of people and the trauma caused by all the lockdown rules will accompany us for a long time to come.

As a church person the ongoing discussions over child abuse, the refusal of many within the church to understand the depth of hurt and the cheer unbelievable clinging to power in Diocese of Cologne as an example simply added to the rollercoaster of feelings in the last month. Covid-19 has obviously put churches and their relevance for society on the spot – and we can expect more discussions on this topic as we go forward.

Obviously, as chair of the HOPE Cape Town Trust building a campus in the midst of a pandemic where funders and sponsors are fighting for their own survival has its own challenges; still, I am encouraged by the willingness of many to continue support and to encourage in all ways possible. For me, this goodwill is indeed a counterforce to all challenges mentioned.

The sound of silence – being able to switch of all the noise and to withdraw into the silence of your very own, to listen to the whisper of your inner voice confirming who you are and what you stand for – and what really counts in life – this might be the only point of reference to conquer the challenges of our times.

I strongly believe that you can find a meaning or a teaching or a hint or a message in any situation if you are able and willing to go back to your own roots and convictions. Covid-19 might be a great teacher in this regard. There is a chance that we as individuals come out much stronger than we thought – and this strength can be used to contribute to the well-being of society and humanity.

Filed under: General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, 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, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The “impossibility of planing” trauma

It is Saturday, 15.08.2020 – and the since 5 months running state of emergency will come to an end today, if and when – yes, if and when government not will quickly expand it into another month.
Every normal functioning government would be able to declare their intent before the expiry date to avoid confusion and create a vibe of knowing what they are doing – not so in South Africa.

Here deadlines are relative and national government seems to be deciding at will in the last hour – or even later: I recall that the Ministry of Basic Education decided on School opening to be happening at 8 am only on the very day at 11 am. Or our president telling a whole industry to be shut down in 3 hours, having allowed it to open up a couple of days before. On – off like an authoritarian ruler guided either by Chinese influence or yielding to pressure from the opposition in the own party.

So South Africans, besides being in limbo for 5 months with changing lockdown levels, added now to the mix the so-called load shedding levels (which is a nice word for not having enough electricity even the economy is severely down in production and demand) endure since months the impossibility to plan – which I would call an immense trauma. Humans need to be able to have a lifeline of hopes and planing security, families need to know what happens school wise with their children (I have stopped counting the numbers of plans announced, changed and skipped) and business people need to be able to plan for the rest of the year ahead.
While in most of the world governments try to establish a clear way of communication (except Boris Johnson and Donald Trump) with society and has clear methods of communication, in South Africa every minister seems to have his or her own way of expressing what the next steps will be, might be, could be and obviously the ominous National Covid-10 Command Council is in its top secret meetings the owner of the crystal ball deciding the fate of 58 Million people as they wish and when they wish so.

It is simply unacceptable but shows the incline into authoritarian rule which seems to be a BRICS attitude with China, Russia and Brazil in top exemplary positions for South Africa.
South Africa does not only deserve better – it does create an unnecessary uncertainty and unsurenesss which is after 5 months of a traumatic nature.  Add to this the question of ongoing stealing from the people during this crisis done or allowed by the same people running the country, the millions of people now without income and unemployment adding to the already 30% unemployment statistics and you come close to the desperation cutting deep into the emotions of a society still in need of healing from the past.

If the amount of service deliver protests, illegal land invasion paired with explosion of senseless violence and destruction is an indication, then we are in for a rough time. The silence of any national moral or ethical leadership, the silence of church leaders beyond some statements, the despair of grassroots community leaders trying to keep sanity adds to this era of unnecessary trauma and also gives witness to it.

South Africa has always shown that it is able to “maak ‘n plan”, basically to make a plan – and it would help immensely when our national government exchange the erratic behaviour for a transparent process with appropriate communication. The mood in the country is changing and unfortunately it seems that the gap between those in Pretoria and society as such is meanwhile so big, that it takes time for the ruling party to understand and react appropriately. People already in distress need to know that government cares – it is time for the comrades to wake up and give the people what they need: ethical leadership and transparent planing possibilities as well as the healing they deserve and yearn for since 1994.  A crisis is always a chance – to be used for a better future for all and not for the nightmare of serving an ideology.

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

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, , , , , , ,

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