God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The knives are out at home…

It seems the knives are out in the Catholic church especially of my country of birth and in Europe – everybody wants dialogue but it seems that every fraction is fighting seemingly assuming that their position is the right way into a bright future of the RC church. The permission of the “old tridentine mass” as the extraordinary mass and the remarks of the pope regarding the condom use in the book of Mr Seewald – mixed with the abuse cases, the attempt to change the text of the mass to make it more “latin like” – from outside it looks frightening – fulled by irresponsible essays and news of so-called “catholic” websites in German language lacking every inch of the ethos of Catholicism and using a language rather be found in the times of the thirties of the last century in Germany. The just published declaration of theologian in Germany calling for a review of celibacy, women ordination and viri probati shows that since the II Vatican Council, nothing really has moved in these fields – binding our energy for matters which should have been resolved a long time ago.

If we really want to tackle the issues of the people and the faithful of our times, we have to stop fighting but first of all listening to each other. What energy is burned to hold up a certain ideology in our church or a so-called “tradition” – anxiety instead of freedom, attack and defence instead of listening to God’s good spirit.
And obviously this has also consequences for the topic, this blog is reflecting about. How much energy some put in to defend “Humanae Vitae” in a way which simply made it impossible within the church to develop an answer to the question: protection of life. And as Benedict XVI dared to speak his theological mind not saying anything new – for days the newspaper were full of comments and the Vatican had to issue three statements to interpret the interview of the pope in the right light. And now Vatican sources tell us that there is a new word on HIV/AIDS to expect, looking at it from a Christian perspective.  I hover between hope and despair waiting for this new paper.

I really would like to see a stop on all this navel gazing – how we can serve the people and make their life meaningful, that is the only question we should ask ourselves as members of or church, how we can open ourselves up to God’s spirit without always killing the breeze out of anxiety, stubbornness and a picture of God, which in reality is already outdated when we put it together. Then whoever and where ever God is, I believe that he/she is much more than we ever can think of. And for that, I am indeed grateful.

Serving in the field of HIV/AIDS would mean then to look anew at what sexuality constitutes, what sciences are telling us, how we have developed in the last 100 years. And from there to see how we can create a meaningful and responsible context for sexual activities which also matches the realities of us humans. Seeing how many young people world-wide are still dying we also have to reflect more on what life and death means and how we can learn to speak of a meaningful life, even if it is short. We have to put our view of a “successful” life on the test bench. HIV and AIDS has also to do with evolution, with a virus meeting a new host and being not able to co-exist in a way, other bacteria are living with us since ages.  The questions of justice and peace are also still not solved and I am sure the topic HIV and AIDS with all consequences could contribute immensely towards those questions.

So much to do… to reflect … to get down to business …

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

13.05.2010 Finally Muenchen…

Last day in Rome and meeting with the Papal Council for Justice & Peace – a very intense and meaningful talk and we leave with the impression that it was more than good and just to approach this council for our work with HIV positive priests and religious. A lot to think about and a lot of planing ahead.
After visiting the church used by the prayer circle of St. Egidio in Rome and reminding us of all the modern martyrs we get to the airport to fly to Munich.

Our first meeting is with Prof. Beckmann from the TU Munich and we discuss certain aspects of common work lying ahead between the TU and HOPE Cape Town. Then after 10 pm we arrive at our hotel and we are left with a last drink while preparing for our first meeting tomorrow. A long day draws to an end and the 2nd ecumenical church day is waiting for us.

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

25.03.2010 Safe House and Rome is calling

Tomorrow, a representative of the “Romantic Hotel Group” is visiting HOPE Cape Town together with Joachim Franz and Sandra Wukowich. HOPE Cape Town will be presented with the first sign marking us as a recipient of the Safe House Fund of “be your own hero” e.V. I will go out and show the working of a primary health care facility, we will visit the family of one of our patience and lastly also seeing Tygerberg Children’s Hospital. It is good to have such networking and for the weekend, Joachim, Sandra and myself will stick our heads together for some exciting times in 2011.

Also on the POZ side, the initiative for HIV positive priests and religious there is some new development. Fr Wim and myself are granted a meeting in Rome with the secretary of the Papal Council for Justice and Peace. This is the second important meeting for Rome during our two days visit and I am looking forward to it. Things are developing in the right direction and it feels good to be part of this development.

Filed under: HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Networking, , , , , , ,

25.10.2009 Further comment to the news of the Vatican…

Congratulations to Cardinal Peter Turkson for his appointment to head the Justice & Peace office. To appoint an African Cardinal was in my eyes a wise move. As my home bishop is the head of the Justice & Peace commission in Germany and we from HOPE Cape Town have a memorandum of understanding with the Justice & Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Cape Town, I am in good spirit about all these developments and hope this will lead to some synergies. Africa will push justice and peace and with it also some of the topics related to HIV and AIDS. Ein Schelm der Boeses denkt… 🙂

Filed under: HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Networking, , , , ,

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