God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Drought and Water scares

Meanwhile it is almost known in every corner of the global village that the Western Cape is facing a severe drought and that Cape Town might be the first big city completely running out of water. Emotions are flaring high and accusations are flying into all directions: local government, the people of Cape Town, the system, the complicated spheres of government, national government – everybody is able to pick up his or her argument to blame others for the crisis.

I guess it is a typical scenario where half truth are used to cover up own faults – its human to pick what serves my argument:

Yes, it is correct that there was a severe drought for 3 years in a row – but since years there is talk of a desalination plant and done was really nothing.
Yes, it is correct that the water use of some people is unreasonably high – but you can’t expect that people realize the severity when you played your cards of counting down to day zero already last year and it did not happen
Yes it is correct that national government is obviously reluctant to assist an opposition governed province, but honestly, opposition took government officials so often to court in the last years but failed on this one badly.

So I would say that bad planing, bad coordination, bad politics and bad habits here joined hands to get to the situation as is in the moment. Responsibility lies with government officials to  lead the way out of crisis – and there is the next problem: with all the finger-pointing and in-fights there is no real leadership – dealing with citizens like school kids does not help nor creating a situation which will lead to chaos and anarchy and a breakdown of public life as we know it.

The way the water crisis is handled is a dis-service to the people of Cape Town, but also South Africa – it damages not only the reputation but the possibilities to create a better life for all – some soul-searching paired with honesty and fairness to all concerned would assist in getting the situation back on track.  Communication must improve – watching for example Xanthea Limberg as  mayoral committee member for informal settlements, water and waste services and energy talking about the situation feels like a detached person taking about a minor problem of technical nature. “Empathy” is the missing word and emotion.

And there is more to say: If the City of Cape Town would have a proper and transparent plan to overcome the situation people would be more willing to engage. For example the drought charge now given up on: If there would be a plan to build a proper desalination plant – given the public plans, figures and timelines with a projected outcome I am sure the support for such a charge would have been overwhelmingly positive. People must see and feel that their money is working for some good in the future. Saying that such a charge makes up for lost revenue because people saved water was quite bad and those who do the marketing of such communication should be fired on the spot.

Millions of people queuing for water every day – no running toilets in office buildings and restaurants – sanitation and health issues as a feasible threat, closing temporarily primary health care facilities as per existing plans – the list is long and time to avoid it is short – instead of continuous finger-pointing I would like to see all responsible to get to work – reflection can come later when there is the appropriate time. Definitely some lessons to learn for the new democracy of South Africa and it’s functioning in real life experience.

And lets be clear: the lack of proper planing and maintenance in the area of water and sanitation also from other provinces and national government  together with climate change will South Africa hit hard if not immediate steps are done to avoid more disaster scenarios in South Africa. And to be honest: as a priest I also miss the vocal and leading voice of churches and interfaith communities: water and access to water is a human right – and yes, one could hear some voices here and there, but not the swell of guiding concerns needed in such a situation.

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

Going to hell…

We at HOPE Cape Town have people of all faith working for us and it has been for me not a problem at all as I believe doing good deeds bring people together. I am actually always interested in questions of Interfaith and this week, two events were taking place regarding this topic. The AGM of the Cape Town Interfaith Initiative was held at St. Marks in Cape Town and it was wonderful to see how the representatives of different religions were eager to work together. I am thrilled to continue working on the board of this fine organization contributing towards peace and understanding in the mother city.
The other event took place at Herzlia Secondary School in Cape Town where I was invited to be part of a panel, discussing with students from different schools about the importance of religion for young people in the 21st century. Quite a strong debate and I learned amongst others that I – unfortunately – will go to hell. How comes?
In one of the group discussions there was the question of friendship between a Muslim and a Christian and after lot of debate, I was told by one of the students that indeed friendship can be developed between a Christian and a Muslim, but that the friendship between two Muslims are always have a more intense meaning. The word “brotherhood” was used to describe this more intimate friendship. I also learned from my young discussion partner that a Muslim has the duty to bring the Christian onto the right path – meaning: the right religion and that he should never give up till the end. Which triggered my question: And what happens if I die without converting? He was very sorry – and one could see it in his facial expression, but he told me, that unfortunately I have to go to hell then.
I found that discussion amazing, because normally at such occasions we try to be nice to each other and avoid touchy subjects like “going to hell”. The honesty of this student made me think how much is still to learn from each other and to accept where there remain differences. But I am lucky, I don’t have to be sorry for my Muslim friends, because in my Christian heaven there is space for everyone – even those who call God “Allah”. And for the rest, I strongly believe that the mercy of God will do the rest. So no worries, but the acknowledgement, that the work of an Interfaith Council is very important. Then there are more questions than just the future of unrepentant Christians – another discussion group got on me about my interpretation of “Adam and Eve” …. but that we leave for another blog. 🙂

But I am grateful for such evenings of discussions with young people and I appreciate their frankness and honesty. We need such robust exchanges to know, who we are and what we stand for in our faith.

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

Sometimes it hurts… Another day @ the conference

Today, the second day of the conference, is my focal point more on HIV and faith-based organizations. So the day starts early with an interview for the Catholic “domradio” in Cologne. Next to networking with people of this field I also read some comments about the conference and one got my attention immediately. It is written by Dr P. B. and published not only on his blog but also on the internet news of kath.net, a more right-wing Catholic news website in the German language.
The headline “what really helps against new infections” got as said my attention and already the first sentence of the article gave the answer: “With the simple approach to live chaste till marriage and then be faithful to the partner within marriage 99% of all risk factors are eliminated”.
Wow, I thought really impressive. And I guess with a similar strategy can we can empty our prisons as everybody has to remain honest and non-violent instead of stealing or murdering someone and the problem is 99% solved. The logic of the article culminates in the argument, that people become infected because they don’t listen to the pope – and mentions Africa and specially Catholic areas on the continent where such prevention work has great success.

Such argumentation makes me speechless, but I was comforted through a podium in the afternoon where a pastor from Malawi told us about his experience in seeing HIV and AIDS as a challenge to come out of our comfort zones church normally provides and to give answers needed ending stigma and discrimination. He also was very critical of certain forms of development aid European or US style: “Africans can think of their own” , so the pastor and the audience underlined it with laughter and applause. An US American pastors wife told us from her experience working in Rwanda and a Thai monk about the great work, he is doing on the level of interfaith. He and his fellow clergyman, monks and imams are also looking for those caring for people living with HIV and AIDS. A humbling experience just to listen how those people gave witness about their calling to get involved in the battle against the pandemic.

This is what we need in our churches, mosques, synagogues and temples: people who believe honestly that HIV and AIDS is a challenge, not only for a personal life, but for the way we believe, we pray, we worship, we see our brothers and sisters. Yes, we need those people in our churches, mosques, synagogues and temples who are not afraid to open up, network beyond the borders of faith and denomination or religion. We need people who are simply not afraid to listen to their calling which overcomes human boundaries and is driven by the unconditional love towards their fellow neighbors.

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, Networking, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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