God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Racist teachers remarks…

It sounds familiar in South Africa: accusations of racist remarks, racist deeds or racist intentions are every weeks’ news: schools, companies, institutions – and this time the German International School in Cape Town.

I don’t want to go into the details of this case but look at it from a different and more general perspective:

Accusations fly – then a broader audience takes part – political organisations join in – protests, sometimes violence, and the at a given point the next location, the next scenario, the next accusations. From outside, very often emotions are triggered without even knowing the specifics of a case. For some, those accusations are a welcome motivation to get into fight mode; for others it is the eternal circle of pulling the race card, when all other arguments are lost and nothing is left than taking out the racist hammer to destroy the possibility of serious arguments and search for the truth of the matter.

Maybe it is time to step back and look at the problem of racism, perceived racism, abuse of racism accusation as a weapon of choice from some distance. If we really want to tackle the problem of racism, but also the problem of using it as a weapon, we have to invent a response which is structured and able to look at a case from all sides. Emotions, protest, placards, violence and political grandstanding are poison.

Obviously this only will work if people are willing to confront, assess, acknowledge the problem and if they are really interested in allowing for healing for the sake of a peaceful future. It demands listening skills, acknowledgement of history and a non-judgemental attitude to allow for this acknowledge and healing process. Add to it an open mind and a caring heart, as well as the social and political will to succeed. It requires a protected safe space to allow for honesty and self-reflection,

But: it really should not be facilitated by politicians or state institutions here in South Africa. It should be far away from political parties.
In my humble view, creating this structured approach is a task, proven and acknowledged churches should invest in and called upon. Here, the sacred space could create a practical tool to allow for the process to unfold. Unagitated, serious and non-destructive, but with the clear aim to learn, to overcome and so to put in pillars for a racist-free society. South Africa will only succeed to create a future for all if we are able to do so – and we could once again be an example for the world.

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

Too harsh or justified?

People reading my posts often make contact and ask: Are you not judging the situation too harsh? Does it even help the situation?

And my answer is: Seeing the plight of the people in areas HOPE Cape Town works; seeing the anxiety levels of our staff working in the health sector (and the Western Province is still the best) and quite frankly seeing the abuse of a crisis for an advancement of political ideology one cannot stay silent.

I am also aware that I am in a privileged position to voice discontent publicly; a lot of people fear that saying what they want to say would result in disadvantage for them or their families. Therefore, most criticism you find in WhatsApp groups and close-circuit conversations or anonymous on social media.

As a human being I have to be concerned about the hunger, the poverty, the hopelessness and the suffering of my fellow human beings.
As a priest I have to insist on solidarity against power abuse of those in power, I have to keep God’s promise of a life in dignity for all alive in the hearts and minds of the people.
As a political activist I have to insist that democratic rules are followed and neither politicians nor police or military ignore the rule of law and the law of the land.

This pandemic has opened our eyes to see the gaps between most freedom fighters turned politicians and the “normal” people they rule.  The crisis has shown how little South Africans have moved away from Apartheid times in so many instances: the brutality of the military and police in townships and the snitching in the so-called affluent areas give witness to it.
Politicians like Cele, Mbalula and Dlamini-Zuma have made it clear that the ruling party need much more liberation from their own ideology, and the movement will have a long way still to go to really transform into a political party serving the people.

But having said that all: every crisis, every challenge is also an opportunity. And maybe showing these opportunities were in shortage in my blogs in the last weeks.

The opportunity to understand how deeply entrenched the divide within society is when it comes to wealth and poverty – and it is not black / white; this scenario has changed since the introduction of BEE, eloquently used by those in power.
The opportunity to see all the possibilities again, civil society movements can achieve when there is a time of need.
The opportunity to invest more in understanding how democracy is not only a mechanism, but must be filled with the spirit and understanding, it deserves.
The opportunity to really unite letting skin-colour simply not coming into one’s way while assisting hands on.

And lastly how much we depend on each other, as fellow human beings, as a society, but also as a country on the goodwill of others, as citizens of a global village – realising that we are part of creation, the world as such, not master of the universe, but part of something much bigger. It should make us humble – all of us, independent where our place is in society.

A crisis time can also be a time of healing – but for this to happen an honest discourse has to happen, sometimes wounds have to be opened again to heal proper. In a crisis often honesty starts creeping in because there is no time for long discernment.

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

South Africa: the role of churches in the times of uncertainty

For people in South Africa, 2019 will mark again the time, when elections are due and with hundreds of parties already registered the fight for parliamentary seats – associated with power and money and influence – it begins to show its ugly face in so many ways. The biblical promises of a land where milk and honey are streaming is taken by countless politicians and taken to a society which is penetrated by a seemingly unsolved past, accusations of racism, insufficient quality of education, corruption, incompetence, cadre deployment and economical stagnation – a list which could be continued for a longer time.
The fabric of society has huge cavities and distrust, the question of compensation and entitlement lingers in the air and one only has to look at the neighboring Zimbabwe to see where it could end.

And I ask myself: what is the role of the church in such uncertain times? When I look around churches are covering the fields of moral and ethics – they fight against what they perceive threats against God’s will for the people – some churches play with the people and promise heaven on earth and proclaiming the “gospel of wealth” – not to speak from all those charlatans who simply abusing educated and uneducated people for financial gain. The field is very mixed, but let us concentrate on the main stream churches and those serious about building faith.

From my point of view and seeing what I see the most important task in 2019 would be to become a safe space for telling stories, for bringing people of all walks of life and all skin colors together to really and deeply listening to each other and so repair the fabric of society and allow for healing. I truly believe that being a conduct for understanding each other, walking in the shoes of each other, seeing with the eyes of the other would be service to this country. No discussion about race or racism, no debate about politics, no lectures what we have to do or not to do –  but listening to each other in a safe and structured way – sharing life and receiving life – being the place of encounter and healing.

If every parish, every religious community would start to become such a place of listening, healing and true encounter it could present that kind of coming together without any hidden agenda our society needs to develop a future where nobody is left behind. And being such a place does not cost anything – no expensive technical apparatus, no big resources, maybe some training for those leading such coming together.

The churches serving as sacred grounds for healing – this is in my view the most important task in the times of uncertainty. And it does not have to be big groups or the masses – like leaven will pockets of healing grow and change at the end distrust in trust, confrontation in understanding – and so allow also for a redress which is fair and open to the future for all.

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , ,

Loving to be a victim

We often talk about victims in South Africa – victims of crime, falling victim to a disease, victims of circumstances, victims of traffic accidents – a never-ending story unfolds when talking about victims. What really got me going this week was the perceived victimization of students. I listened to the comments made by students after all the intimidation, violence,burning of property, throwing stones – and when then taken into custody, they are the victims because the state power did not allow them to continue their destructive actions.
But it is not only the students – it seems that it is in the moment en vogue to be a victim – especially of circumstances, of the wrong time, the wrong advice, the wrong friends, the wrong teachers. It feels, looking around that it is part of the South African soul, searching for its midst, to feel victimized.

It seems that the normality of decency or honesty or respect has been fallen victim too – one is not only entitled to be a victim, but one carries this stigma like a batch of honor or a banner in front of oneself – the world should know that I am hurt, hindered and stopped to be who I want to be because of others and circumstances. And if need be, destruction and violence are my witnesses to my message.
I read this as a sign that the soul and fabric of our society is still deeply hurt and mourning its own past, counting the wounds which were so nicely covered in the first years, the honeymoon of society. And having the Zumas, the Guptas, the Hlaudis and all the others in charge of a deeply disturbed society there is no healing in sight, but only exploitation on most levels and shameless abuse of resources so much-needed to bring about this healing.

Cry beloved country – who does not know this term – maybe this is what is needed – accepting all the pain and hurt and a collective crying about the past and the presence before being able to wipe the tears from each others face and moving forward. This can only happen if we get leaders we deserve, honest and trustworthy leaders, politicians who have the plight of the people instead the filling of their own pockets at heart. It also need church leaders who much more than now engage in the healing process instead of battling long-lost wars within society. Without a sincere leadership in politics, churches and society this country will take a long time to heal . And the first so-called born free generation deserves more than a bleak future driven by the impotence and lack of will of today’s people in charge.

We have overcome Apartheid, we are in the process to hopefully overcome pandemics like HIV – we still have the strength of rising up like the phoenix of the ashes – but for that we must commit to decency and compassion and overcome the somehow sad happiness of being a victim.

Filed under: Africa, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What do I expect from the Family Synod?

The family synod is coming up and obviously every theologian has some ideas what should be achieved and how the Holy Spirit should guide the participants towards a development of the theology of families and with it some aspects of moral theology. The preparatory meeting and the time afterwards has shown that the gloves are off and that those insisting of keeping it as it has been since the beginning are fighting really hardcore to defeat any development in this field. It almost looks like marriage and sexuality are at the core of the gospel for some in the church and the rest of the message is not that important, hiding behind this epic battle of minds.

For me as a priest, knowing the battles, trials and tribulations of so many faithful including myself but also knowing the history and development of theology through times and ages, it hurts to see that faith is almost turned into an ideology to win this battle. On the other hand, we know from the Acts in the bible that Peter and Paul also had their fights during meetings with the apostle in Jerusalem. And if there would not have been new ways – for some unthinkable at that time – acknowledged, Christianity would still be a Jewish sect.
What is clear that for most people in this world the outcome does not matter anymore, Humanae Vitae has never gotten the “sensus fidelium” and the lonely decision of Pope Paul VI has alienated so many Catholics from the teaching of the church. And it is clear that those, who are still interested of what the church is saying, in their majority expect a development in the teaching, addressing the questions of our times and healing of those wounds, inflicted by a theology, which insists that the ideal is the norm and uses the most important sacrament as a tool of punishment rather than strengthening those in need of it.

So what do I expect from the Synod dealing with family? This is a tricky one, as whatever one says, it will either be applauded or condemned and quick the box is ready to be put in and the key of the lock thrown away. Nevertheless, now is the time to speak out and hope for some development to avoid the same reaction within the still faithful as we have seen after “Humanae Vitae” – a second exodus of people out of the church would be a disaster and very regrettable.

Synod on the family – the first I would expect is indeed the strengthening of the family – the message that is great to establish a family based on Christian values, yes that it makes sense to love and have kids and pass on faith, hope and love to the next generation. Society needs families to grow and develop – families are the future of any society.
Secondly I would expect that the church recognizes that there might be different theologies possible – especially the African continent has much to offer with its traditions, heritage and ways towards marriage and family.  So an encouragement for the universal church to look into the rich treasures of possibilities to develop regional pastoral theology a would be a great achievement for the church as such.

Sciences have developed and there is a gap between theology and the knowledge of sciences when it comes to sexuality. This gap has to be closed because both, faith and the scientific world are two ways leading to God, they cannot contradict themselves. Acknowledgement of this fact and encouragement to talk more without anxiety would be another great achievement of the Synod.
This will certainly lead to a different approach concerning our LGBTI brothers and sisters, the word “intrinsic evil” should be scrapped from the books and at least an acknowledgement that God’s creation is much more divers than it was appreciated by the church until now would be a step in the right direction.
A further appreciation that where there is a committed and loving relationship in our society there is God present would go a long way to heal wounds inflicted of a church experienced as cold hearted by many.
In this context of sciences and faith the synod should also look again at the topic of artificial contraception, but it should not be limited to this framework. Several theologian have opened up venues to debate this question anew.

For the question of divorced-remarried I simply expect that we stop using the Eucharist as a punishment tool and that we look at the patriarchal theology of “oikonomia” in the Eastern Churches leading us to a changed approach and an acknowledgement that the unconditional love of God is especially important for those failing their hope of life-long marriage. Nobody just runs away, hurt, pain, tears and desperation need an encouraging answer as Cardinal Walter Kasper has made clear it with a brilliant consistency in his talks and books.

The Synod on the topic family cannot solve all problems or bring instant change to all what is debated, but it should open up venues to explore, cleaned up ears to listen to God’s good spirit anew, even a renewed way of reading the bible in the context it was written thousands of years ago.  A Synod has the task to strengthen all faithful, to encourage them to live their faith and to be recognized and acknowledged as trying their very best in the way they are created to live a life with hope, love and faith.
The Pope called a year of mercy – and it is not only the mercy for the individual person, but also a year of mercy asked for a church, which tries to make its way through the times as a crowd of sinners and saints, with successes but also failures. A time of mercy, a time of God’s mercy is a time where we are allowed to reflect on our way without anxiety, without fear and at the end there should be the encouragement to walk the way of life with God, to experience his kingdom already now . Church is not end in itself – church has the duty to show the way, to encourage, to love, to bring hope or as the first reading of next Sunday, the 23rd in ordinary time says:

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong”, fear not!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
and shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water.

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, General, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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