God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

2021: Vaccinated, boostered and recovered

Looking back at 2021 shortly before Christmas, I can’t say, the year was boring or uneventful. 2021 started with the hope that Covid-19 might be overcome during the year and a sort of normality would come back into daily life. Little did we all know that hope can be a stretched from January to December – not lost, but wearing thin at times.

Travel restrictions continued for most of the year in one or the other way, forcing me to cancel a lot of meetings in person and to combine necessary travel in two big chunks for up to 9 weeks at a time. I could write books about the May to July travel, where the German way of doing business simply ended up in the madness of changing rules on a daily basis, on a location basis – and on a “We have our own rules” basis. Besides the anyhow difficult situation and anxieties meeting somebody from the – at that time – South African mutation, it challenged all my creativity to navigate through constant changes in the set program.

Exhaustion and frustration were my constant companions – and for the first time it was difficult to understand my fellow German brothers and sisters. Nevertheless: meetings made possible were rich and felt good – meeting again in person, looking each other in the eyes and catching body language and facial expression directly and not through a camera – simply a human need.

This was also the time to get my first Covid-19 vaccination shot – followed by a second and – by chance even a third one, today called booster – already in July 2021. I assume I was the first in Germany in this regard; my attempt to get the third vaccination registered on the German vaccination app was met with astonishment in various pharmacies: The system did not allow for it….

Those vaccinations triggered a bit of a change in mindset – I felt more free, more safe, more alive again – and I guess, this mental push should definitely not be underestimated when it comes to the health of the human mental faculties.

The several times postponed HOPE Gala concert took place – and despite all the Covid-19 regulations being adhered to – the sheer fact to be able to celebrate an event again – the sheer fact that you – vaccinated and tested dared to hug a person again – it was an evening with a taste of normality which did everybody attending so good. And add the musical program of this open air event – it was simply great, enjoyable and some hours of liberation from an otherwise so threatening world. I take my head off for the organizers, who until the very end did not know it was possible to run the event, but still put all energy and love into the planing and finally executing of the great Charity Concert.

Back in South Africa there was the constant demand triggered by the construction of The Nex – Indawo Yethu Campus in Delft – so much preparation since 2019 and finally the move into the first buildings: Administration Building, Bavarian House and Resource Centre as well as “La Maison de Christoph”, the holistic preventative health centre. The joy of occupying a new building but also the challenges of a snag list longer than the river Jordan while at the same time starting the first programmes like vocational training / duale Ausbildung in logistics, entrepreneurial skills’ development programs and other education courses constituted a roller coaster of feelings. We had days with more than 200 students on the partly finished campus while next Phase 2, the Early Childhood Development Centre was and is currently in construction. Those who called my idea of this campus a crazy one, a not possible one had finally to admit, that the sky is the limit if you believe in something and one has the right partners creating synergies. Because you can’t do it alone, the HOPE Cape Town team, VPUU and all the other collaborators from government, NGO’s and civil society as well as the Bavarian State Chancellery were all essential to walk the talk and to bring another ray of hope to Delft.

Finally, the last months with the second trip, three charity dinner in Berlin, Dresden and Munich and many personal encounters with sponsors and partners. And still the upcoming 4th wave in the back of your mind constantly threatening travel plans: nevertheless most was possible to achieve, but it took more energy out than anticipated.

Back in Cape Town beginning of December there was no rest for the restless as the official opening of the Bavarian House and the anniversary of 20 years HOPE Cape Town were due to be celebrated. And while we missed our Bavarian friends, who could not travel due to Covid-19 travel restrictions – and the arrival of Omicron – Saturday, 4th of December was a day of joy and celebrating achievements – not in a big way, but the day stood out and felt good. I am still grateful for all who made this day happen!

Now we are before Christmas – and as the headline indicates, there is one item missing: recovery. There was a time in between of flu-like symptoms where I quarantined, not wanting to give the flu to anybody else – nothing really dramatic, just a bit of cold and cough, quickly gone. It turned now out that this was Covid-19 – and my natural antibodies are now skyrocket high next to the ones triggered by the vaccine.

So yes – it looks like this year was really full of challenges but also islands of joy. There were moments of frustrations, but also of deep gratitude and happiness. Covid-19 has created many obstacles on my way and certainly did not help to fundraise and cut the possibilities of expansion of my network. It showed clear limitations of activism, but it also triggered creativity and the determination to achieve set goals even in the midst of a pandemic.

I am going out of this year more humble and more grateful – I count my blessings more carefully. And I am determined to welcome 2022 with open arms willing to make again the best out of what is possible.

Filed under: General, Reflection, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Punished – and some general thoughts…

Let’s face it: South Africa has very good genomic sequencing capacity and capability – within a year, twice it made the world aware of a mutation of concern – and twice the world thanked it with shutting down air traffic and simply ignored the fact, that discovery does not mean it originated in the country of discovery; and also take into account that livelihoods and lives are destroyed.

Countries of the EU, a community of values, as they proudly proclaim, hoard medical resources, make sure that vaccines come first in high volumes to their citizens – even knowing, that a pandemic can only be beaten or influenced if and when all human beings have the chance to be protected. There is no protection for one country.

They also set the rules – switching economies of countries on and off – in this case tourism in South Africa, as they see fit. But what can you expect from a community of values, which let refugees drown while fighting amongst each other what to do and how to solve the problem.

Covid-19 has in so many ways changed the perspective: human mankind is not that advanced as we thought, ethical behaviour or concern for the next or the society one lives in does not matter for quite a portion of humans, “Querdenker” and those believing in all the fantastic myths when it comes to vaccinations show clearly that stupidity has no ceiling and irrationality no limitations. Listening to one of this “Querdenker” proclaiming that every vaccination is an injection to kill the person leaves every decent person wondering.

Of course, governments have their share in contributing to confuse people.
In Germany, for example, trying to be political correct and avoiding clear statements and rules gave oxygen to those militant vaccine opposition forces. Having ignored the pandemic during the last phase of national elections brought the country to where it is currently.

In South Africa, the president himself welcomed the first 1.2 million AstraZeneca vaccines, only to kick them out of the country and entertain the certainly weaker alternative of J&J as a trial phase. This did not create trust in a society which anyhow does not trust government in general. Also here, during local election time all rules were relaxed for the sake of political events.

Where from here?

Firstly, we have to acknowledge that we are all in it together – tribes or countries can not do it alone.

Secondly, we cannot continue to punish excellence, and we have to balance risk and livelihood. Knee-jerked reactions are not helping. We have to learn to live with the virus – and it is the nature of the beast that mutations happen every day.

Thirdly – vaccinations are the only real way forward – the longer governments wait and entertain all the anti-vax nonsense, the longer the drama continues.

Fourthly, a comment regarding churches: there is a lot of space still to be occupied in taking a stance pro vaccinations.

Fifth, let’s face it: our systems are not holding for the challenges we partly created ourselves in overpopulating the planet and thinking, we are the masters of the universe. The advances in IT, social media and AI have changed dramatically the way, people feel and feel connected. The ways democracy works are partly not equipped to face modern times challenges. Our path of living outruns our ability to understand and react. The interconnectivity of matters is partly so complicated, that we lose oversight.

It is time to reflect and come to senses: be it Covid-19, be it climate change, be it the relationship between Africa and Europe. Because if not, there is one certainty: this world and the universe can easily exist without the human race.

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

Reflective silence

It is a longer time since I have written a blog contribution.
As a Catholic priest, politically interested and working amongst others in the fields of health it seemed to me in the last weeks, that in all those category groups madness has taken over in the public and not so public sphere.

As a priest I follow with sadness the many stories of child abuse in my own church; I notice the arrogance of power, amongst others in the Archdiocese of Cologne and the for me incomprehensible reaction of the Vatican, ignoring that without trust you can’t be a Bishop of a Diocese any more. In Cologne, people made their view clearly known by leaving the church. Hamburg is another sore point in this regard; and generally: the church is still a prisoner of its own power games instead of being a real servant of the faithful. The fear to lose this power overrides the possibility to admit, showing the consequences warranted on this matter.

As a political animal I have watched the German election from far – and obviously also the local election in South Africa. Both raised more questions than answers. And looking at the USA the battle for democracy in the real sense of the word seems to be relentless. The discussion on climate change and saving the planet has also its moments – unwillingness to change or to take responsibility by head of states mixed with expectations and demands beyond reality by some younger people makes it difficult to find solutions in time. On the other hand – the universe will continue – with or without human beings present.

Health – or better the battles around Covid-19 keeps one awake at night – here I have never seen more conspiracy theories made available via social media; the amount of wannabe academics and experts behind the keyboards at home on one hand and in the instance of some European countries the Nanny State attitude without limits in sight are difficult to face every day in the news and on social media. Where does the fiduciary duty of a state ends? And where ends the freedom of an individual to endanger himself and others with possible deadly consequences?

So yes, reflective silence was needed looking into all those challenges which can be overwhelming at times. I still have no real answers yet, but I felt that just reflecting personally and silently instead of jumping onto the battlefield of opinions without balancing them was the right thing to do.

If more people would do this, maybe the conversations would be less emotional and black/white but more productive and serious.

What I miss is a culture of really listening to each other, really weighing in on arguments, but I have to admit there is also a limit, where nonsense can’t be tolerated or even entertained any more.It seems to me that people are overwhelmed by situations and constant information flows; our brains are simply not made for the advances in IT. We feel the downside of the technical revolution, bringing into questions on a massive scale the way we lived and thought for quite a while.

We have to acknowledge that the human race is not that far as we thought; and we have to learn to use what digital technic offers us in a way appropriate to human consumption and human ability. Thinking before posting, reflecting before making a statement on social media will do societies good.

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

A human “mea culpa” needed – and then action

Hurricanes, heat-waves, fires destroying big chunks of nature and habitation in California, Turkey, Greece, Russia and so many more parts of the globe. And looking at Germany, the big floods still are making headlines, destroying the livelihood of so many while having killed others in their way of destruction.

In all the tragedies, with all the sympathies and with not stopping to help and assist those in need and those having suffered or mourning the loss of a loved one or their sheer existence; we have to ask the hard question about responsibility in particular cases and wider scenarios.

I recall as a youngster, scientists left no doubt that the way we treat nature, the way we get closer to the rivers while at the same time straightening them out to serve our purpose, will hit back. We know since ages, the way we live is unsustainable; we know that climate change is happening and will, if not tackle, destroy us as the human race. Earth will not care about it – the small little ball within the universe will continue without us until our solar system will change dramatically in ages to come.

Additional, there is a clear limit to what earth can take on human population – the verse in Gen 1,28 of the bible “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” might find a line drawn into the sand now.

We not only have allowed to continue our path of destruction – millions of people elect and support politicians and leaders worldwide, who simply deny climate change – who simply ignore the well-being of nature for greed and power reasons. And this ignorance is entangled in the whole question of white male dominance, which makes it even harder to tackle. Add to this the birth control debate within, for example, a church with 1.2 billion faithful: then you get a full picture of what we are facing.

Much of it applies to Covid-19 and other virus related incidents, where transition from animal to human occurs. We are all aware that nature has its own life full of bugs, not really hurting their animal hosts. We come closer, we destroy their habitat and ignore their rightful place in our world and force them to find another place to live – with deadly consequences.

We as humans are our own worst enemies – no other creature in this world is more destructive, more ignorant and more willing to go the extra mile on a path which will end with a new dawn without human beings. Those who have the most maybe will survive a bit longer – but all money, all greed, all power of the world will not prevent the final outcome.

The alternative is really to change course dramatically and radically – but not naive, as one hears it sometimes from younger activists who mean good but don’t overlook always the whole picture. But the mix of young and not so young activism with the wisdom of more matured and experienced professionals can open a new chapter for humanity. It can end the “keep it up” strategy and turn lots of words and promises from political and economical leaders into meaningful actions.

We are as humanity in this together – no country can go it alone, no government can solve it alone – which also means to strengthen political bodies like the UN and other international entities. We need a universal “mea culpa” and the intelligence to choose our leaders wisely in this respect. Furthermore, we can’t afford to have those proclaiming their country first, we can’t allow for those more concentrating on stealing from the public purse, and we can’t allow any more for those in charge, who prefer ideology and “the party is always right” instead of a public discourse allowing all meaningful voices to be heard.

And we need the buy-in of churches and religious institutions – make no mistake: Most of them are more involved in the economic deals of current times than we want to admit and acknowledge. Amassing wealth is certainly an important goal of many so-called “prophets” and prosperity churches; and also the mainstream churches are not immune when it comes to investments. Here also, a “mea culpa” would be appropriate and a new outlook needed.

Whatever the future will hold: nobody can say, we have not been warned many times.

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

“Trotzdem” – Hell no!

I guess those living in South Africa feel the rollercoaster of emotions having experienced not only the continuous lockdown related to Covid-19 but also the looting and burning and destruction which marred KwaZulu Natal and Gauteng, leading to a breakdown of public order for a couple of days. A state who definitely failed to protect its citizens and only late intervened; ministers who simply displayed being clueless and not up to the task and incompetent added to the concerns many have about the state of affair in South Africa.

From all is clear, that the fight within the ANC party can and will spill over to society and that party politics simply don’t care about the country, willing to hurt and destroy for the sake of winning the battle of fractions within this party.

And even looking at the latest shuffle of ministers in national government – it is playing musical chairs within the governing party but not the coup starting to liberate South Africa from the claws of corruption, incompetence, cadre deployment or their likes.

For somebody building a campus in the midst of a township offering health and education on a developmental path, the question arises once in a while whether this is worth the effort. What can one achieve in a country, where government and ruling party is in battle with itself, where wannabe revolutionaries steer the flames of racism and clearly advocate violence as a political tool; and where frustration, failed education systems and hopelessness lead to more violence, service delivery protests and actions out of anger and bitterness.

The answer to the question is not easy. On one hand, one could pack and walk away. Another possibility is to stay and reason your efforts with the German word “trotzdem“.

At the heart of “trotzdem” is the word “trotz”, which surely is very German; a harsh word meaning defiance; it triggers the feeling and action of “Hell no!” – I will not do it!
It is basically a somehow stubborn or holy resistance – a resistance to accept the doomsday scenarios while at the same time standing up and offering an alternative way into the future. I personally think it is also a theological word, looking how in the bible – especially in the Old Testament – God is described who never gives up on human mankind.

So building the campus “The Nex – Indawo Yethu” in the township of Delft – a place featuring high on the scale when it comes to crime statistics, unemployment and like often in South Africa a lack of decent education – together with many partners and collaborators and investing in vocational training and health holistically is a social, political and theological statement of “Hell no!”

And strongly believing that it is never too late to turn the tide, to stop cutting the corners of development, to cease cadre deployment and corruption and to liberate society from racism and other woes impeding progress and healing. And a perspective for every decent South African who deserves to live in freedom and security. It needs a network of all those small little places of hope and confidence that life has more to offer than what may experience on a daily basis being kept dependent on handouts and charity.


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

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