God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Durban2016 – a reflection on the World Aids Conference

durbanTomorrow ends the World Aids Conference in Durban – most probably the same way it started, with lots of encouraging words and hopes held high: treatment for all, equity, justice and equal treatment for those on the margins of the so-called society.

It was a week full of talks, presentations, encounters – a week full of demands, pleas, promises and a concert of different voices: researchers, activists, business people – all wanting to have a share and a say in the biggest HIV related global conference, taking place every two years.

The magic year 2020 and the numbers 90 – 90 – 90 were repeated and mentioned over and over: 90 % of the infected people should know their status; from those knowing 90% should be on treatment – and from those on treatment 90% should be undetectable.
Another magic year named very often was 2030 – the aimed end of the Aids pandemic.

But let’s be honest: all the tears, pleas and promises could not hide the fact: as the world stands today, we will not reach this goal. 16 out of 37 million people are in the moment on treatment – and the Global Aids Fund lacks promised money to reach all of the ones in need of treatment. The so-called “war on terror”, the financial crisis, the madness of politics let made financial pledges degrade into empty promises. The gap between what governments have pledged, what is needed and what they finally pay into the global fund is going into millions of US Dollars.

And it is not the lack of money – besides the madness of war and terror, perceived or real – it is the assumption that we have the Aids pandemic under control. It seems forgotten that every year 2 million new infections are still counted and 1 million people perish as a consequence of HIV, Aids and related illnesses.

But even the future looks bleak – conferences like this are needed: they serve as a public reminder of the injustice of poverty, sickness and premature death and the responsibilities of governments and public health sectors. They also bring people together one would not meet otherwise.
In South Africa without the activism we still would be told that HIV does not cause Aids and that antiretroviral treatment kills. Only activism, toi-toi and conferences as well as taking the government to court as civil society brought the much-needed results. But we should never forget those having died because Manto Tshabalala Msimang and others fought against common sense for a far too long time.

I am grateful that this conference brought me together with gay, lesbian, transgender, intersex people, with male and female sex workers and with drug users – encounters without the moral pointing finger – it was about meeting other human beings with their struggles like I have my struggles. It was about listening and giving everybody dignity and space to talk, to share, to explore, to feel loved and accepted. How much could also the churches learn from such encounters – understanding that the world is much more diverse and colorful than most allow themselves to accept in their small little world of daily and religious life.

Conferences like this also help to deepen the understanding of HIV and its related problems, it gives the chance to celebrate successes, mourn failures and last but not least to feel not alone in the battle against a deadly syndrome. 18 000 people from all over the world, united in an ongoing battle to save lives, to demand access to treatment, to put the fingers on human rights abuses and inhumane and unjust laws hindering our fellow brothers and sisters to live life to the fullest.

Conferences like this are energizing – they liberate one from the narrow views one automatically have working day in and day out in the same social and cultural environment – for me as a priest they open up to what “catholic” really means in the full sense of the word.

Churches are praised for their active role in the fight, but they are not very much appreciated when it comes to legal matters or global or national policy decisions. The anti-gay laws in Nigeria, the questions of sexual orientation and the women’s rights in matters reproduction are contentious issues which impact clearly also onto the fight against HIV and Aids. Sometimes it seems that moral considerations overshadow the life-and-death consequences, such stances have on grassroots level.
And obviously the long stance of my own church regarding condoms did not help either – and it took Benedict XVI’s interview to start open up this question in his acknowledgment, that if a male escort uses a condom to protect his customer it is the beginning of morality.

So lastly conferences like this put the finger on open questions, on answer demanding questions, they make the bridge between teaching, sciences, research, religion, faith and real life palpable and it’s the conversation between all parties which could bring solutions adequate to the life of the ordinary person plagued by all the challenges on a daily base.

So thank you to the organizers of the conference for making it possible once again to meet, to greet, to exchange, to laugh together, to learn together, to fight together, to discern together, to disagree with each other in the quest of the best answer possible.

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, HOPE Cape Town Association, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

World Aids Conference 2016

“What do you expect from the World Aids Conference 2016?” is one of the common questions asked in the last week. Well, what does one expect from a conference with more than 15000 participants in a country which was hit the most from the pandemic. Insights into new developments? I guess the most important factor for me is being able to get an overview first hand what is going on the world of HIV and AIDS around the globe. It is indeed the direct contact with activists and researchers where I learn the most  – while listening to their experience and insights – and which makes the trip to Durban worth time and effort. Communication, exchange, but also the feeling not to be alone in the fight against the pandemic leaves on with the resolve of continuing the work one is doing locally.

Durban 2016 is so different from the previous World Aids Conference held in Durban in 2000. At that time it was despair, hopelessness and the ignorance of politics which ruled the situation in South Africa. It was the time when HOPE Cape Town was born out of the need to stop the dying of children and parents. So Durban 2016 is also about achievements, about the millions on treatment, the figure of new mother-to-child transmission slowly going towards zero and the great feeling, that we from HOPE Cape Town have been part of this unbelievable journey of hope and frustration, often changing first place in the matter of an eye-blink.

There is still so much to do – the transmission rate in South Africa is still scary high, other countries also register more new infections and a vaccine seems to be still far away. There are still millions of South Africans dealing with stigma and discrimination on various levels. There is still so much stigma attached, so much fear and anxiety when it comes to dealing with HIV and Aids. We are definitely not there where we want to be, and the next 10 years will be crucial in the attempt to make a new generation of zero new infections a reality. Given the moment state of affair in South Africa, all the service delivery protests, corruption, political ignorance and the still wounded society there is more than a question mark to put behind the question: Will we achieve a victory?  HIV is more than a medical syndrome, it has to do with poverty, with hunger, with despair, with job creation, with investments, with intact families, with proper sex education, with the end of religious bias towards moral questions – and obviously when looking at it globally the amount of resources will depend on how governments want to spend their money. Looking at madness of violence and terrorism, racism and war it seems that HIV will continue to have only a backseat. And this might compromise the achievements reached till today.

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, HOPE Cape Town Association, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, HOPE Cape Town Trust, Medical and Research, Politics and Society, Reflection, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

10.10.2010 Durban Airport

Durban Airport – waiting for my flight back to Cape Town. Like usual it was a filled Sunday with the service of the German-speaking Catholic Community Durban at 10 am. A full church and a very good atmosphere to pray and to contemplate the gospel of today. It felt simply good to be back after one year. After the service as usual meeting with the people, coffee and cake and lots of chats and exchange. The place in front of the Marimba Hall is packed with people, all in lively chats and discussion. That’s how I imagine communities abroad where the service is also a space to meet and greet and share.

Afterwards then to the Oktoberfest in the German Club – from the Hell Angels to the nuns, all are there, enjoying the Humpa Band and Eisbein and Schnitzel and a good beer in the heat of Durban. Also here lively chatter around every table. It is quiet different from Cape Town, where people come and go while in Durban, most are here for the last 20, 30 years and one knows each other. And in the midst Sr. Agnes, well know to all churchgoers as well as those who have not found the way to church yet. 🙂

Back at the airport time still to answer email and to write this block before Cape Town is calling again and a full week is ahead…

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

09.10.2010 Durban

After one year Durban again.. the airport is new, the faces of the German-speaking Catholic Community are in the same way familiar and friendly. A talk about the current issues in the church. We talk about the dialogue of the Vatican with the ultra conservative quarters of the Pius brothers which also is causing division amongst ordinary Christians. While it seems that the intention to withdraw the excommunication was meant a welcoming act, the consequences are not that welcomed by many people. Instead of dialogue the right-wing Christian media specially of the internet launches one attack after the other – there is not much sympathy for those behaving like a fundamentalist Christian militia.
Ecumenical questions were another topic – and here it seems that meanwhile there is almost no understanding amongst the interested laity that our church still struggles with the topics of divorce or women ordination and certain question of sexuality. People seemed to have withdrawn a long time ago from the official stance of the church and I guess it is of critical importance that the church is listening to the frustration of the faithful and their practical decisions, made as a consequence of their conscience.
The child abuse cases were another topic and as much as there is no understanding for paedophile priests in active service, it was interesting for me to hear that there is a feeling that even after all the actions of bishops conferences there is still the feeling that too many of the hierarchy are still sitting in positions they should have left as a sign of responsibility. For many people, an apology is not enough. This German scandal, after the US and Ireland has indeed caused a major rift between the institution church and the faithful.
We have still a lot to work on before we can gain the trust again, we need to proclaim the gospel in fulness.

And as so often it is us, the ordinary priests, who have to defend actions, we ourself are seeing with a critical view. Sometimes it is difficult to be honest and loyal at the same time. All the happenings of the last month do certainly not help at all.

Filed under: Reflection, , , , ,

03.10.2010 Sunday afternoon

Sunday afternoon – and my last service as a supply priest for Belhar. I must admit that I have enjoyed going there the last Sundays and to experience one of the South African parishes – so different from the once in Germany. The question I have in mind is: how can the church remain relevant for the people in the next 20 years. Eying to Europe one can see how societies and with it churches develop and I am convinced that one can learn to prevent some of the “European developments’ for the local church.

Besides the church work, there will be also a decision on the future of the POZ initiative catering for priests and religious who are themselves HIV positive. After the Southern African Bishop’s Conference can in the moment not see any need to set up a special offer for those infected working in the church, there are consultations to see how one can overcome obstacles and offer a pastoral service, the members of the working group believe is necessary and essential. Turning stigma into a blessing is important and combined with a process of healing and self acceptance it would be an important service the church could offer their own employees. But of course it is a sensitive field and I feel that we have to do more convincing to get those responsible in the church hierarchy on board.

The coming week will see not only trips to Durban and Johannesburg, but also visitors connected to the Romantic Hotel Group in Europe, the farewell for Rainer, who will find his final resting place here in Cape Town, meetings for the HOPE Cape Town Trust and HOPE Cape Town Association and as usual lots for preparation work for all things lying ahead.

Filed under: General, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Reflection, 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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