God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

Reflections / Gedanken

Study of the German Catholic Bishops Conference on HIV/AIDS published in Germany

The German bishops are committed to make sure that HIV-infected priests and religious in Africa can talk openly about their situation. Until now they could “not openly live with HIV while in the church service.”
This is one of the results of a study that the Working Group of the department for the work in the universal church of the German Bishops Conference has released on Tuesday. “Lessons from the responses of the Catholic Church on HIV and AIDS in Africa,” is the theme of the study. It contains the results of an international field study, which was conducted from 2010 to 2013 in Ethiopia, Zambia and Malawi by theologians and health experts which are summarized. Not only medical aspects, but also pastoral and ethical issues are addressed.
Furthermore the study calls that church and medical institutions should work better together. Any efforts in the fields of HIV prevention, care, support and support for AIDS patients should be continued. The results of the study will be disseminated through workshops in Africa, which was the wish of the participating African bishops.
Basically, the situation of the people should be considered and taken into account, according to the study. Economic, social, cultural and political pressure has pushed many people to risky behavior. In the training of priests and pastoral workers ethical and pastoral skills related to the pandemic must be taken into account. (translated from the Vatican News – German section)

For somebody advocating to address the question of HIV positive priest here in South Africa since years this small article feels like a great encouragement. Until now I have experienced only great openness when addressing the issue in the Vatican with the head of the Papal Council for Health Care and the secretary for the Council on Justice and Peace, but met with rather quiet resistance when addressing the issue here in South Africa. It is indeed not a sexy topic, but the question, how we can turn the double stigma priests and religious suffering from the pandemic into a blessing for them and their respective communities is for me an important one. An organization like the church which caters so much for HIV positive people in general and was and is at the forefront in the fight against HIV/AIDS on practical level here in South Africa can at the end only be authentic if it caters with the same compassion and openness for the own people affected and infected.
I have experienced how anxious priests are, who are infected. It seems to be in the current situation impossible to get two priests who are both HIV positive in the same room  to share life. The fear of being known, being betrayed by a colleague and exposed, the fear of rejection from the respective parish or community shows a climate within the church urgently to be addressed. We are a welcoming church and the unconditional love of God we have to proclaim must be felt and extended to our fellow priests and religious brothers and sisters. It is indeed also a question of Justice & Peace within the church to do so and make space available for this. Once again: Stigma must be turned into blessing – and the unconditional love of God will shine palpable upon us all.

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11.05.2010 Wolfsburg – Rome

First station on our tour to Europe is Wolfsburg to attend a working session of the World AIDS Awareness Campaign II.   A day later we are already in Rome and today we had an appointment with the secretary of the Papal Council for Health Care Workers, Bishop Jose Rotrado, on the topic of “POZ – pastoral care for HIV positive priests and religious”. When we arrive at his office – to our surprise – our first meeting is with His Excellency, the President of the Papal Council, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski himself. Fluently in German and English we have the chance to discuss with him the relevant topics before seeing Bishop Jose Retrado and discussing with him in detail the next steps and possibilities.

In the afternoon then visit of St. Peters and other “must see” places in Rome – the Manenberg parishioners are waiting for some pictures of the trip their parish priest is doing. Late afternoon/evening then reflection of the morning meetings and preparations for the next meeting  with the secretary of the Papal Council for Justice & Peace, whom we will see tomorrow.

Filed under: General, Networking, , , , , ,

09.05.2010 On the way…

Cape Town – Johannesburg – Frankfurt – Hannover… the first leg of the trip, Fr. Wim Lindeque of Manneberg and I are flying to meet a lot of interesting people and to hopefully push forward our common agenda regarding the pastoral work for HIV positive priests and religious. While the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference considers our proposal, we are heading also to Rome to introduce our concept to two papal councils. After that to Munich where I am invited to join a podium about South African children and HIV. Lots of talks with politicians and church people are also on the agenda. Finally to Muenster Sarmsheim to join for a fundraising evening in lieu of HOPE Cape Town and the next day discussion with some students of a local school.

But first to Hannover and Wolfsburg to meet “brother” Joachim and Sandra and their team to prepare for some challenging events next year.

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,

20.10.2009 vatican meeting

A real experience. Joachim and myself arrived in time at the papal council’s seat close to St. Pieter’s. Last Friday we were told by email that Bishop Jose will be out for another meeting and that Monsignor Jean Marie, undersecretary will be available to discuss the matters with us. After 1 hour of waiting I enquire and find out, that the undersecretary has not arrived yet. When he arrived we quickly discover that we need somebody to translate from English into Italian as he is francophone. To organise that it takes another hour – at 11 we finally are sitting together to discuss matters, not a very good start into good business.

The first point is quickly resolved. The press text to be published in the council’s magazine about the cape2cape is in some points not completely adherent with the teaching of the magisterium, so we are told and I take the text to have a second look and promise to re-submit. I will spend one of the next evenings to do so…
Then we discuss a planed project where we wish the involvement of the Holy Sea, the council and the pope. We agree to submit a written proposal and meet again in May next year.

The last point is the question of HIV positive priests, religious, clergy and I explain our project, our pastoral aims. This is met with a serious discussion and the recognition that there is surely a tricky but important task ahead, which has not been started in the church yet. We discuss possible steps forward, which I will take to our project group and I promise to send a report back to Bishop Jose and again: May would be a good time to discuss this further, maybe even with other departments of the Vatican.

The two hours waiting was a difficult time, specially for Joachim, who is simply not used to be treated like this. In all fairness I must say that both representatives of the council apologised profoundly at the end for letting us wait so long. I attributed the wait rather in a not very good preparation and hand over for the meeting – and I make it very clear at the end of the meeting that my way from Cape Town to Rome is not just for fun but that I mean serious business and we are really interested in engaging in meaningful discussions and solutions which will be beneficial for all concerned.

I had the impression that at the end we might have a good starting point for a further engagement and possible cooperation in one matter and starting a process of serious consideration for the matter regarding HIV positive clergy. I don’t want to go into detail about the way forward regarding the POZ initiative as I think it should first concern the project group in Cape Town and I will report back to them. But I can tell without telling too much that our planed strategy seems to fit in very nicely to bring the process forward.

Back to Wolfsburg were I will stay the next two days discussing cooperation with Joachim Franz and his team – and after an almost sleepless night in Rome I will now sleep this evening very tight. The flights with Swiss Air have been rather nightmares than pleasures – but flying hasn’t been a pleasure for a long time…

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, Networking, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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