God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Moments in between…

“How was the holiday?” – a lot of people ask when I am returning home after weeks of being overseas. And even if I nicely tell them that traveling for me means work, it seems that I cannot get through.  They have read also about the HOPE Gala Dresden, the jet-set and glamor, they know that I meet stars, starlets and politicians.. and somehow that translates into “fun under the sun”.

It is difficult to explain, that HOPE Cape Town only runs it’s business when people are donating money and that there must be that link between those who have and those who have not. It seems impossible to relate that waking up every second night in a different hotel room, meeting different people all day and most evening along can drain the last drop of energy out of your body.

That said, of course, there is the fun part, the parties, the laughter, the ease of life which hopeful at a point translates into support for HOPE Cape Town as well. But there is more to this travel once in a while.

There is the very brief visit to a person whom I meet in her home. Lying in bed, she is waiting to die. Cancer – last stage – within months the future crumbled to weeks without the possibility to move around. It’s intense, the talk about, what might lie behind the door of death, the curiosity and the fright. It is intense, recalling memories of her husband, who died 21 years ago and taught me lessons in life I will never forget. And I will also not forget his habit to take out a book or a newspaper starting reading when the sermon on a Sunday morning was not up to standard. Laughter and tears, farewell bitter-sweet. There is family, there are the parents who clearly getting older and where I can sense that the light of life is slowly burning down for one of them. Every short brief visit when in Europe might be the last farewell. There are friends, popping in when possible and I am traveling in their neighborhood who want to talk, to re-connect, sometimes just tell their stories, hear advice because somebody coming from far away might have another view on their life situations.

Sometimes, when I close finally my door behind me in a hotel and recall the days events and encounters, I feel so humbled and small in a way, so inadequate to fulfill all the expectations of those who are now going their way again. But on the other hand it is also a blessing to be part of a network of people which now stretches to almost all continents. And it feels good when it peeps and my cellphone presents me with a sms telling me, that my friends in New Jersey are safe after “Sandy”, the devastating storm.

Now sitting at the airport (again) waiting for my next flight to Vienna I am wondering what I will encounter there in the parish where I am invited to preach, to say Mass and to give a talk about HOPE Cape Town and the work we are doing. How I got to that assignment?

Well, it happened in Durban last year when I was asked to say mass and one parishioner had guests from Austria…

Filed under: Catholic Church, HOPE Cape Town Association, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, HOPE Cape Town Trust, Networking, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

23.08.2009 The last birthday…

The last birthday
Little Fareed’s death – a common outrage in Africa

Fareed is emaciated and he breathes heavily. For a ten-year-old boy he weighs too little and his eyes seem far too big for his face. And yet, Fareed is one of the luckier children. He has been admitted into a hospital, the Ithemba ward at Tygerberg Hospital. Fareed’s sister has sat by his bedside for days. She holds his hand, helps to change the bedding, comforts him. When I meet Fareed for the first time, volunteers have just made up his complexion with base. His big, sunken eyes look at me with quiet determination. Fareed has a yearning desire: he wants to have a birthday party. He was there when a little girl in the next room had a birthday party, organised by colleagues from HOPE Cape Town. It had a cake with candles and presents and all the trimmings. He would like that too. But there is one problem: Fareed will not live to see his next birthday. He has only days to live.
We decide to grant him his last wish anyway. We bake cakes, buy gifts, and decorate the room. And two days later we celebrate his “eleventh birthday”. Fareed cannot get up, so all the children are gathered around his bed, the birthday cake with burning candles on the sidetable. We help him to unwrap his presents – he is too weak to do even that. Our chorus of “Happy Birthday” sounds more like a swansong. I struggle to hold back my tears, as does everybody else. It is a cheerful horror party which I won’t forget as long as I live. But little Fareed is happy. A smile frequent smile floods across his face; he doesn’t have enough strength to animate his joy. A week later Fareed dies. These beautiful memories are distorted by a rage that this child had to die because at the time the medications which might have relieved his suffering and extend his life were unaffordable. It was an unnecessary, senseless death. And yet it is this particular death which revitalises me in times of despair, when I’m about to give up, when the sheer enormity of the suffering I see threatens to crush me. Fareed, a fleeting acquaintance in my life, has seared himself into my heart with a scorching intensity. When doubts start to take over, I think about him and remind myself why I am involved: on behalf of Fareed and all the children and adolescents I have watched suffering and dying from Aids, some in calm serenity, others crying in pain. Every such child, every such adolescent, represents the dying cries of the crucified Jesus in our times.

Excerpt from the German book: “Gott, Aids, Afrika” – B.Grill/S.Hippler – Kiepenheuer & Witsch Verlag (gebunden/ hard cover 2007 ), Bastei Luebbe (Taschenbuch/ Paperback 2009)

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

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