God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensée of a Catholic priest

IAS conference 2017

Fragments of thoughts and impressions

It is my first IAS conference I have attended and compared with the World Aids conference it is a smaller crowd: round about 6000 people from all over the world coming in Paris together to discuss developments in the fields of HIV and Aids.

The first impression is that the conference is much more academic and discerning – it feels that most talks and presentations are indeed on a much higher academic level then at local Aids Conferences or the big world conference.

I am staying at a hotel outside Paris in Nanterre a commune in the Hauts-de-Seine department, the western suburbs of Paris. It is located some 11 km north-west of the centre of Paris. It feels strange – and from the beginning I can feel people have to live in a way which does not support human interaction – it feels cold, just doing the job of housing people without consideration on the human desire to live in a nice and friendly environment. It’s a sort of shock for somebody living in South Africa – it is strange but it feels like as soul-less place. The hotel is situated on top of a commuter train tunnel and station – every now and then one can feel the coming and going of a train while laying in bed.
So I guess all is there to sustain living and working, there are high rising buildings and all kind of services, but the thought I take with is that I can understand such suburbs create problems and even violence.

The mix of people here is amazing – mostly and certainly from the African region of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco – it feels non-European in a European way – figure it out what it means.

And travelling to the conference centre – using the train and the metro – being part of a huge crowd in the morning and evening entering and exiting the dark alleys of the underground world – being part of the endless movements of people pushing their way through the crowd to reach their daily destiny – it is breath-taking – but not in the usual sense of the word. I definitely recall all my blessings living with some space and lots of day light in South Africa.

The conference itself is for a non scientific person sometimes difficult to follow – but I guess it is not about the exact details of every molecule one has to understand, the sheer feeling of understanding the principle – the idea behind all the details – the sometimes keen thoughts and trials and errors are a fascinating mental adventure – it stimulates my brain and forces me to read and study and “google”  – I have to admit that is a great experience to be beamed for a while into an environment really challenging you on knowledge and understanding.
But I believe that people running organisations must have at least a grasp about the background work done and the driving forces behind new developments before they reach the grass-root scene to be put into practice. Fruitful communication, bridging the gap between science and grass-root as HOPE Cape Town is trying to achieve on a daily base means for those in charge constant learning and communication with all spheres of their work environment.

Last but not least it was great meeting people from other countries and engaging in discussions – learning from each other and about each other and feeling the compassion of trying to rid the world of a viral onslaught. And yes, there is of course also lots of business – lots of calculation, but even there, you very often sense that those being employed in the big pharmaceutical companies understand that there is humanity needed in business. The connectivity of the global village, the threat that a virus can easily come and bite those far away helped indeed to change some of the attitudes which governed such entities a decade ago. Surely there is still lots to optimize and clarify – a balance must be put into place between commerce and humanity but I guess the battles of treatment have brought some clarity and movement into the field. Well, a watchful eye seems to be always necessary when it comes to that topic.

I will leave Paris tomorrow with lots of new understanding about the work done in the laboratories of this world. I leave proud knowing that our very board member of HOPE Cape Town, Prof Mark Cotton co-chaired the CHER study which produced one of the most published results of the conference: the child for 9 years in remission after being treated as a baby. I leave motivated knowing how many people dedicated their lives and career to fight back a pandemic which brought so much death and sorrow onto human mankind. It simply feels great to be part of a movement which has the goal to end a pandemic and give people a chance to live life and sexuality without fear. To live and to love to the utmost in their lifetime.

The only question I was wondering – how many other priests or clergy have been to this conference – not that it really matters but it would be nice to know that more of my fellow brothers are engaged on this level in a matter of live and death for millions in this world.

 

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, HOPE Cape Town Trust, Networking, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Discussions about family

Within the church and society there are major discussions how to define family and how to define marriage. As seen in France, violence seems to be the last resort for opponents of “same-sex” marriage and family life. Having myself problems with the word “gay marriage” on one hand but seeing the need for equality regarding the legal status of a same-sex couple in the legal framework of a country, I found in the recent Southern Cross two articles which in my understanding are underlining the need for further discussions on the subject without any hostility pro or contra the opposite position. With the permission of the editor of the Southern Cross, Guenther Simmermacher, here the two pieces, which can be seen also on the original website of the Southern Cross. All copyright is with the Southern Cross.

The revolution of family (link to Southern Cross original text)

May 1, 2013

In recent weeks several Church leaders have indicated that they might not oppose legislation that would extend civil union rights to same-sex couples, with the legal prerogatives that apply to traditional marriages, but without characterising such unions as marriages.
“In practice, the function of procreation has been diminished as the primary purpose of marriage, and not only in the West”
In early February Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said that while the Church cannot consent to anything that treats other unions as equivalent to marriage between a man and a woman, “private law solutions” for protecting people’s rights could be permissible.This view has since been echoed by influential prelates such as Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, Cardinal Rubén Salazar of Colombia (where same-sex legislation is pending) and Archbishop Piero Marini, liturgical master of ceremonies under Pope John Paul II. Under Pope Francis there seems to be an increasing openness to saying such things. Indeed, these statements might reflect the pope’s thinking: a senior official in Argentina’s bishops’ conference has confirmed that the former Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio favoured civil unions as an alternative to the legalisation of gay marriage in his country in 2010.

These comments will be welcome by Catholics and others who have supported the extension of full civil rights to homosexuals, but are opposed to changing the traditional definitions of marriage. However, an acknowledgment that the legalisation of same-sex civil unions is not irreconcilable with Catholic teaching and represents a tolerable alternative to the redefinition of the traditional family might be coming too late in stopping the inexorable move towards the legalisation of gay marriage in many countries. Worldwide, 13 countries have legalised same-sex marriage, including South Africa.

Questions may be raised whether the concept of same-sex civil unions is actually acceptable to those who advocate same-sex marriage, and whether the Church can keep intact its definition of marriage and family if it consents to same-sex civil unions. In a broader context, can the Church’s model of the traditional family retain currency in societies where the meaning of marriage and family has been thoroughly revolutionised over the past half century, with divorce, cohabitation and raising children outside marriage increasingly being seen as acceptable and normal? In practice, the function of procreation has been diminished as the primary purpose of marriage, and not only in the West. It is within this context that the notion of same-sex marriage has become acceptable to so many people throughout the world. These realities merit open and candid discussion as the Church seeks to formulate its response. It may also be productive to study the effects of the tone in which Church leaders state their opposition to gay marriage. For example, have the more strident forms of rhetoric—on either side—precluded reasonable dialogue and compromise?
It must be acknowledged that in its engagement against gay marriage, the Catholic Church has inflicted wounds, and sustained some itself. The Church has been accused of homophobia and hypocrisy. While opposition to same-sex marriage obviously is not intrinsically homophobic, some of the trenchant rhetoric has been interpreted as being hostile to homosexuals. Sometimes the lines between defending marriage and attacking homosexuals have appeared to be blurred. Some intemperate protests from Church leaders have been hurtful to the LGBT community, in contrast with the Catechism of the Catholic Church which demands that homosexuals be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (2358).

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who himself has offered ferocious opposition to gay marriage, acknowledged this failing last month when he said on US television that the Church must ensure that its “defence of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people”. He acknowledged, with admirable frankness, that the Church has not “been too good at that” and has failed to be consistently welcoming to gays and lesbians.

This failure to fully extend Christ’s embrace for all requires correction. The discussion about how to do this must begin now.

Learning from Germans (Link to Southern Cross)

By Mphuthumi Ntabeni on May 1, 2013

In April the Justice and Peace (J&P) Commission of the archdiocese of Cape Town was fortunate to have an information-sharing session with a visiting German Church delegation, led by Bishop Stephan Josef Ackermann of Trier. Bishop Ackermann is the chairman of J&P in Germany, and also the bishop assigned to deal with sexual abuse cases in Germany. Pilgrims pray at last year’s “Katholikentag”, the biennial German Catholic Church assembly which is organised by the national laity council. The German delegation was impressed that in South Africa we have J&P commissions in our parish commissions.  In Germany J&P exist only on a national level, under the Zentralkomitee der deutschen Katholiken (ZdK), the official council of the German Catholic laity.

The ZdK was founded in 1848, was banished under Bismarck and again under the Nazi regime, but gained public respect mostly during the Cold War. Its secretary, Dr Stefan Vesper, was among the visiting delegation. The ZdK is a representative body of lay people. It unites diocesan councils, Catholic associations, institutions of lay apostolates, lay movements and communities. It serves also as a forum of opinions on political issues and the Church. From what I understood, the ZdK represents the concerns of Catholics in the public arena. It has a division that operates like our Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office in participating in public dialogue and in the houses of legislation in shaping public policy. It advises the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference on issues of social, political and religious life. Most of us showed deep interest in ZdK works, especially in the light of the media reports about some of our church leaders on topics such as sexual abuse and homosexuality. The ZdK seems to be a good forum for dialogue and a fountain of sharing ideas between bishops’ conference and general laity, so that the Church can truly speak with one voice. It was refreshing to notice that the bishops and ZdK actually speak with one voice, albeit from different perspectives, about the social teachings of the Church, and that no noticeable tension exists between hierarchy and the lay body.

For instance, I had a short discussion with Aloys Buch, a leading professor of moral theology and a deacon, about the gay marriage discussions that are currently a hot topic throughout Europe. Apparently the German Catholic Church makes a distinction between civil unions and marriage. Prof Buch argued that the widespread demand for gay marriage, as opposed to civil unions, is not about natural justice, but about the desire for a “biopolitical tyranny to destroy marriage and the family as the most basic and crucial mediating social institution”.  I later discovered that Bishop Ackermann holds similar views. So there is a clear distinction made between gay marriage, which the German Church—like the Church everywhere—opposes, and same-sex civil unions, which would give homosexual couples all the rights of matrimony, except to call that union a marriage. While the legislation of gay marriage is not acceptable to the Church, for the reasons Prof Buch outlined, the legal construct of civil unions of same-sex couples appears to be tolerable.

I was embarrassed to admit there is a certain squeamishness about talking about these things as openly in the Southern African Catholic Church

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

12th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenOctober 28th, 2017
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Ball of HOPE 2018

Join us @ The Westin in Cape TownMay 5th, 2018
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© Rev Fr Stefan Hippler and HIV, AIDS and HOPE.
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