God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Change in the world in lightning’s speed

We have to be honest: The world has changed now twice in the last two years with the speed of lightning, and what was considered normal is now the good – or not so good – old times. And most people struggle to run behind and catch up with what’s happening.

There was first the Covid-19 pandemic – lockdowns, limitation of movement, the advent of virtual meetings as a new normal, civil liberties put on hold and countries punished and isolated because they were considered a threat – often more a gut-feeling of politicians or anxiety of political decision maker.

The threat for the human race already lurking in form of the climate change at every corner humanity passes, got an add-on in a small little virus, who loves the density of humans living closely together and expanding into nature in a speed unimaginable 100 years ago.

Now the bloody war against Ukraine – and our world-view changed overnight again:

Looking at Germany or the EU:
Having had a hard-line approach against immigrants and refugees coming from East Europe; looking down at that time on Ukraine as almost a failed and corrupt state with a comedian as president – rather only interested in certain aspects pertaining to the country – we now celebrate the bravery of the Ukrainian people and even sending buses to get as many refugees as possible for free into the European Union.

And suddenly the Johnsons, Orbans and all the other questionable politicians are out of scrutiny; such crisis situations lift suddenly even average politicians and the realisation of the political ignorance towards Russia in the past overrides finding the time for proper analysis and judgement.

Add to this the feeling of powerlessness of people including politicians and their emotional state coming out of a pandemic, we have to watch out not to miss out the balance between what is needed to be done and what is needed to be avoided in the future.

The changes of stopping a mad-man like Putin are slim or almost non-existing. The naivety of the EU (or better wanting to keep and eat the cake at the same time in respect of Russia) and obviously the poison of the Trump years and the downfall of the USA as the world policeman with dark shadows triggers more questions of how international relationships will be governed and organised in the future.

Looking at China’s hunger for power and its relationship with Taiwan, the next big drama is waiting to unfold. And there is Africa with all the aspirations and projected failures in the years to come while being one of the biggest economic markets in the future. Not to forget the reorganisation of the UN – the order established after World War II is coming to an end. The veto powers of some nations will have to be abolished in the current system – and this will not go without a fight.

So more dramatic changes are on the horizon. We have just to watch out, that we can digest as people and as societies what is happening. And not lose hope on the way to other new normals. An one encouragement in this respect is certainly the overwhelming willingness to help the victims of Russian aggression, as seen almost everywhere around the globe.

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

Signs of the times for the Roman-Catholic Church

I am not sure how to explain the feeling when convictions, you are holding deeply in yourself suddenly are voiced officially and formally in the church, you are serving since more than 30 years. It is not even a triumphant feeling – that would anyhow be much too early, looking at the universal Catholic Church – but it is a relief that thoughts, you were punished for, ideas which were forbidden to speak out lout (like the ordination of women priests under John-Paul II) are not any more only whispered in the dark corner of the church.

Participation of laity when it comes to the election of Bishops, gender equality within the church – and yes, it means all genders; ordination for women, celibacy as choice. A clear jump to overcome the Middle Ages and to arrive as the pilgrims finding their ways through the times into the 21st century.

Obviously we are not there yet, but knowing that German theology had always an impact and is indeed well reasoned and studied, there seems to be suddenly light at the end of a very dark tunnel. There will be now a forceful stand-off of those wanting to remain in the past. And there will be a decision to be made whether the universal Catholic Church allows for a synodal way forward which also strengthen the local churches and gives them the leverage to own decisions on certain levels; or whether the institution is imprisoned in the thought that all must do the same. Diversity in Unity would be the catchphrase; and the Orthodox Church gives us examples of this diverse unity based on baptism and creed.

While the dirty truth about child abuse continues to rage in the church, especially in the German church currently, it opens the view clearly on structural sins of power, male dominance and tons of “brothers in the fog” as the late Cardinal of Cologne described the priestly abusers he and others covered up. Many countries have gone through the discoveries of abuse and many churches in Africa have not even started to look deeply into their own backyards; the German church might be the one which later will be attributed the courage to name and shame the wounds and draw the necessary consequences.

There will be lots of oppositions within the church; there might be more splits and division, but this is part of the process of transformation. There will be the exposure of big gaps between different theologies and pastoral practices when it comes to Europe and Africa. We should not be afraid of all of this. The Catholic Church has waited too long to walk the talk about the values of participation, democratic rule, gender equality being advocated for others but internally rejected those values for their own institution.

Let’s be clear: this is not a German revolution. Think of the Amazon Synod, which also was thought-provoking in their requests. It is about taking seriously the sensus fidei , which was also highlighted in the German Synod text about the framework of its own reflections. It is about taking seriously the synodal church as envisioned by Vatican II; being somehow covered up and almost made forgotten in the times of Johannes-Paul II and Benedict XVI. In many ways, we now start to understand and try to explore the deeper sense of what was said in the sixties of the last century. And if Paul VI would not have forbidden certain discussions, the church would have moved certainly faster into the realities of the 21st century.

Another clarification: All discussions don’t touch on the essential of the good news: the unconditional love for all people, the promise of a meaning in life and the certainty that we are part of a much bigger and divine picture we constantly have to discover anew. The bible is full of stories of people exactly doing this: discovering that understanding and pictures of the divine changes, that the divine touches their lives in ways unexpected; the bible is a book of transformation from Abraham till Jesus. The “word of God” as it is liturgically often called, is not set in stone, but it is set in the hearts of a diversity of humans, we in the church call ‘the sons and daughters of God’. And the church as an institution and a living entity should encourage this living and developing connection between the world and divine. This can be scary at times for many, but diving in the deepest question of existing is not for the faint-hearted.

I often in this day’s think of the first apostles and specifically Peter, who had also to learn that the spirit of God showed him, that his understanding of how things should work, was thrown out of the window. Think of Acts 10:44-48, or think of what we call the first council in Jerusalem.

We live in exciting times for the church, we live in painful times too and in uncertain times. And exactly this uncertainty tends to support the motion to keep the known and to not jump into the unknown. I am convinced that we don’t have a chance but to move if we want to remain relevant as a church. We don’t have to move all in the same speed as a church and within the church, but we have to walk, sooner or later, to keep meaning to our message for this world. Otherwise, we will become a self-serving institution with no relevance for humanity.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , ,

When incompetence meets ignorance

When incompetence meets ignorance, normally there are consequences – and the changes in the entry regulations for Germany regarding people coming from areas with virus variations are an example of dire consequences for business people, investors and frankly those in South Africa, who are not able any more to sustain themselves.

Germany has changed the entry rules for mutant variation areas: India, Great Britain, Portugal are suddenly only High Incidence Areas while South Africa, the SADEC region and Brazil remain closed for non-Germans and to add hurt to insult, prescribes 14 days of quarantine without the possibility of early testing to be able to move on.

Obviously, everybody affected is screaming at Germany, but to be fair, one has to take a step back to appreciate the situation in its entirety. One has to admit, that the national government of South Africa failed its people a great deal. The vaccine procurement disaster, the corruption and stealing of Covid-19 relief money, a suspended national Minister of Health and a Minister of Tourism with questionable credentials now running the show, the attempt to use the lockdown to progress on a left ideology and the continued disaster produced on all levels using cadre deployment policy did not and currently does not help to remedy the situation. There seems to be no trust in Europe in the ability of South Africa’s ruling party to contain the virus – and all the nice pictures of Ramaphosa in Great Britain recently can’t change this. Political pleasantries for TV never automatically mean realities behind the curtain.

On the other hand, preventing fully vaccinated people from South Africa with in Europe approved vaccines to travel to Germany and to sentence Germans coming back to 14 days quarantine is clearly not a balanced approach and shows an ignorance which results in discrimination. It does also not appreciate the fact, that measures should be balanced between rational necessities and the freedom guaranteed by the German constitution. Looking at statistics, Germany has meanwhile predominately infections with the Delta variant. To open up for India and Great Britain where this variant is also dominant, but refuse to do the same for South Africa and other Southern African countries has the taste of bias, old school thinking and ignorance.

Even if obviously Germany comes first for Germans, to add to more downfall of the economy of another country – and we have to recall that even when South Africa had an incidence rate of 11 – no South African was allowed to travel to Germany- there should be more considerations and not only lip-service.

The current situation and rules are not helpful, they discriminate against those doing business, having job offers or study permits, they disrupt the lives of many without a balanced approach. They ignore negligently the already dire situation of many living in South Africa and those in Germany who would like to keep a lifeline with this African country.

Filed under: Africa, Politics and Society, Reflection, SA-German Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,

Travel woes

Trying to travel in the times of Covid-19 becomes more and more a nightmare, especially when you come from a so called high-incidence area like South Africa – where the incidence of currently 11.9 and a recovery rate of over 95% constantly is obviously a major threat to European countries dealing with incident rates average between 100 and 300. It is an interesting experience to be a pariah of the world, only because South Africa did something right – which is seldom enough in our days – namely sequencing the existing virus genomes and making the world aware of a mutation which popped up in other countries as well and threatens e.g. with its 1% occurrence in Germany obviously this country in its core.

Trying to reach Europe from Cape Town is becoming a nightmare: airlines stop flying and entry is practically not allowed for those coming from the danger zone of open restaurants, hotels, shops and with level 1 lockdown almost normal life adhering to hygiene, masks in public and distance keeping.

But seriously:

The Robert-Koch-Institute in Germany keeps South Africa on all danger lists possible since last year – and till now only a court in Baden-Württemberg has dared to state, that this institute has not provided any valid reason for asking local governments in Germany to enforce extended quarantine for people returning from South Africa.

Those daring to fly to South Africa suddenly realise how politics can paint a picture of a country which has nothing to do with reality. Politics, which destroys without any visible regret a very important sector of South Africa’s economy, namely tourism, and pushes the country even deeper into trouble on many levels.

Fear and trying to be a Nanny state dictates currently German politics – add to it the urge to always have a perfect solution for a problem and inventing rules for it, then you have the perfect mix for disaster looming. Listening to those in charge you get the impression that they really think they can beat a pandemic. You simply can’t do this -you have to live with it – and you have to find ways to counter it in a way which balances the freedom of people and the needs of a healthy democracy with the threat posed by the virus.

Looking at the vaccine drives and the distribution of vaccines in the world, there is the other assumption for which Europe is falling: vaccinating their own people first will help. The pandemic is only under control if the virus is kept at bay all over the world at the same time. There is no first winner – even trying to curb travel will not lead to the final goal of co-existing with the virus on a level not really being a threat to humans.

Pandemics are a serious threat for human mankind and the systems, humans are working within; anxiety and fear are definitely not the best advisors nor is it to look only at virology for answers. Social sciences, the psychological impact as well as the economic impact are as important to balance and listen to. Time to reconsider as well as to reflect what governments are obliged to do and where the individual citizen remains in charge of his or her own destiny. Our highly complex societies and their interactions need different answers as we are currently able to give.
And like it or not:
Despite the failure regarding the vaccine story and the attempts to abuse the pandemic for political gains and transformation, for the time being South Africa handles the pandemic better than Europe.

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

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