God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

20.08.2009 Positive clergy

Whether it is because people have read some postings or otherwise heard about it, it is amazing that there are people out there believing that a normal priest, a normal religious can not be HIV positive. Why not – I ask back. Also clergy, religious and seminarians, even nuns are only human beings, having a life before entering the state of religious life or being ordained. They continue to be human beings with all what comes with it, they can fail and raise again, and not only once.

Being a priest, religious or seminarian means to be called to holiness, but humanity remains – holiness without humanity, mistakes, errors and a life with ups and downs is not existing. There is nobody being born, raised and then lived a life without falter in this world. And when it comes to the official saints of the church, their holiness can only shine against the humanity, they have shown and experienced in their lives.

Only knowing to be weak, to make mistakes, to go wrong ways – and accepting that, can lead to maturity and to show compassion to others as I am able to show compassion to myself.

Writing this, I also feel, that even to think in the categories of “right” or “wrong” in connection with HIV is wrong. It is not even up to me to judge anybody in this matter. Decisions, we humans make and have to make every day leads to all sort of consequences. The main thing is to accept the consequences and to live your life to the fullest. Leave the judgment to God…

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, Reflection, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

03.08.2009 the churches approach…and my attitude towards the debate

A lot is written and said about the approach of the RC church regarding HIV and AIDS, lots of praise and lots of criticism, depending where one is standing and how one experience the own situation and convictions. I am aware of all those discussions and obviously take part in it, often not making friends with my fellow brothers in Christ. But I guess however we debate the stance of the RC church, we should all taken seriously that all working in our church mean to foster life, provide guidance for living a life to the fullest. What I mean in saying so is, that we have to have a deep respect for each other when debating the right way forward. Nobody of us is owning the truth and even if we completely disagree about the others argument and position, we always should give the person the benefit of the doubt that he or she means to support life and to help people living it in a satisfying and dignified way.
I have sometimes the impression, that within our church, we have to learn this kind of respect before each other.

Only if we have this respect we are able to listen to each other, to learn from each other and to be challenged by each other. And specially the latter we all need – to be challenged, because only then we are able to sharpen our arguments and to get a clearer picture about our conviction.

For me, the toughest and sometimes even unfair challenges, which put me in corners I never have been in reality and I never wanted to be; these challenges and accusations have been helpful to look again and again how I can clarify my point of view and to knock away the weakness of my argumentation. For that I am indeed grateful.

Whether it is this blog or my work or all my personal encounters with people during the days and weeks – I want to keep that kind of respect, I want to assume that the other person also wants the best for human mankind and the fellow brother and sister. I admit: at times, it is awfully difficult to keep that respect, but it is necessary for dialog and a common way forward. And that is what at the end counts, that people find common grounds and move forward, maybe slower than I would wish for, but we are moving…

Lets debate, find common grounds and move forward in a way benefiting those we care for, we love and cherish and for our own sake and God’s unconditional love to everybody…

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, Reflection, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

02.08.2009 Living with HIV

I have added on the blogroll “living with hiv – as it happens”. I find this blog a very important one as it shows without attitude or drama how life develops after a positive test result. The blog is anonymous and this shows again, how difficult it is to get it out. Here in South Africa, the Treatment Action Campaign advocates the “coming out” of HIV positive people and sometimes I have the impression, that is is almost done in a militant and pushy way. I don’t agree with it at all. Living with the virus is as intimate as faith – and it needs time and trust to open up and to talk about things which are so close to myself. Everybody has the right to be silent and to decide himself or herself, to whom to reveal the news.

People can react sometimes quite funny – for me as a counsellor it is important to advice a newly diagnosed person to look out for one person, with whom he can share the news and with whom he can discuss his joys and sufferings, his grievance and anxiety related to the virus occupying parts of his or her body. It is indeed a roller coaster to get used to the virus, to get used to treatment, and to be able to live a life to the fullest.

I feel often sad seeing how prejudice creates stigmatisation, discrimination – there is still a long way to go until we just accept a person living with the virus without even considering what could have gone wrong. It really does not matter in my opinion how and when somebody was infected – it is for me as a person, a Christian, a priest completely uninteresting – the only duty I have is to encourage somebody to live, to experience the unconditional love of God and to make the best out of his or her life.

Here in South Africa, we also have AIDS orphanages, and I always tend to flip out when I hear people saying, they want to see the innocent AIDS babies and clearly trying to distinguish between them and those, who have acquired the virus during adulthood. First of all there are no AIDS babies, but babies living with the virus. And secondly there is no innocence or guilt when dealing with a person living with the virus.  We should stop even using such words – and leave the morals at home somewhere in the corner where they don’t disturb our judgement and our commitment towards other people. Lets forget about judging people – and just embrace them as they are. This is the way, we also want to be dealt with … at least the way, I want to be dealt with…

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

31.07.2009 Why is HIV such a dangerous topic in the church?

While reflecting the last weeks on my way and my work with the German speaking Catholic Community and the HOPE Cape Town project, I once again asked myself, why HIV is such a contaminated topic in our RC church?

It is amazing because on the practical side, my church and the churches generally are doing marvellous work and without their engagement, much more suffering would occur. But as soon as you leave the known path of caring for the sick and the dying, a moral minefield seems to open up and at the end, one either shuts up and keeps silent or one has to face the consequences of jeopardizing ones career. It seems to me, that the topic of sexuality is still one of the most difficult topics to discuss in our church, as the church regards itself as the guardian of moral and good behaviour. And here a pandemic kills people of all ages and is connected with the most intimate part of human life: his or her sexuality.

It would be wrong to say that church has not moved in its views about certain aspects of sexuality in the last centuries, but all the developments in this field were done in slow movements. And there was always a lot of anxiety not to let go the higher moral grounds. Seeing the suffering of people every day, it sometimes is very difficult for me as a priest to reconcile the theory of moral teaching with the realities on the ground.  Sometimes I even ask myself, how one ever can bridge the gap between the two. But on the other hand: Should any teaching of the church not assist people to more life, to more happiness, to more joy, to more fulfillment?

At least what I would wish for is that we are able to discuss without fear all options and possibilities to combat this pandemic in all openness and seriousness. Without being put in one corner or the other – it seems to me, that one can only be a fanatic for or against the famous condom – but there is so much more we have to discuss and explore. A serious debate, that I wish for in the month and years to come, to find ways serving human mankind in the most beneficial and realistic way. And I am looking for a theology of HIV and AIDS, integrating the pandemic and finding ways to turn the stigma of HIV and AIDS into a charisma. Too much asked?

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Reflection, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

17.07.2009 … not needed anymore…

What does one do if one suddenly is told that your services are not needed anymore? Working hard, believing in what you are doing, this was always a more theoretical question in my life – until it hit hard in Jan 2009 and manifested itself in the last months. I always assumed that I am a strong person – taking on, whatever comes its way and moving on to conquer the next mountain in life. Being the chaplain to the German speaking Catholic Community was indeed part of my life, I loved the work and all what came with it. Knowing, that we as priests have to change position I twice agreed in the last years to be transferred. All was agreed, only to be called of again without real reasoning…

I guess everybody deals differently with such a situation – one person fights on, runs virtually against a wall; another licks his wounds and falls into depression – whatever it is, what you do: there is no other way than to work through all your feelings, aggressions, disappointments, hurts and hopefully to come out as a stronger person you are in the moment.
In my situation it was to realize that there is indeed a difference between the world of church technocrats, knowing the world from their files in the office and some travel in between and us priests living at the frontline of pastoral work on a daily base.  Of course you know it, but you don’t touch it, because you are too busy with your daily challenges.
There is the other realization that our church is run by humans, you have the nice ones, the genuine ones, but also the weak, the careless, the ones only looking for a career  or whatever unrecognizable intention they have…  Once again, you know it, but you ignore it as long as you can and most times, you meet people who are compassionate about their work and take seriously that they are serving God and mankind.

But the biggest challenge in such a situation is to take a deep and careful look at yourself. What is important for you? Where do you get your stamina from? What makes you tick? What do you really believe in? All those questions bring you to the deepest valleys of your own life – not an easy one.. It must be clear for you in such a situation that the basic laws of life applies: you cannot change anybody else than yourself. And if you have experienced the unconditional love of God in your life – is there really somebody else able to border you so much that he or she can derail your way in life? They might be able to close one door – but closing one door in life means only that others will be opened and that looking back, the insult meant to you has been transformed into  a border crossing into a new path, leading to more life, more love, more peace and more happiness and fulfillment in life.

Filed under: Reflection, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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