God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

04.11.2009 Positive clergy

At the end of my stay in Germany I have had a meeting with a representative of the Archdiocese of Munich to discuss with him several matters. One was my request to the Archbishop of Munich to support my work in the fields of HIV/AIDS when it comes to priests, religious, clergy being positive. It is a tricky question but a very important one: how we deal with those amongst us, who are HIV positive.

I will visit in the near future some South African bishops as well to discuss this topic and to try to bring it to Rome. “It will raise some eyebrows”, so a member of the papal council for health care worker in Rome, but he also sees it as necessary to face this question. For me it has to do with justice within the church – all what we proclaim outside how to deal with people being HIV positive we must apply within the church. A long way to go, but all starts with the first mile. And I am grateful to all who are part of this new project.

www.hopecapetown.com/poz

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

03.September 2009 feeling humbled

The last two days were amazing days – so many emails, phone calls, text messages – I even did not know that so many people are following my “case” and were waiting after the cancellation of contract through the German Bishops Conference what will happen to me. Most seemed to have bid, that I will go back to Germany – others thought I will leave the church. Well, both thoughts were quite  real – real threats to my life, but thanks heaven a somehow happy end has been found.
Receiving all this positive messages, I feel indeed humbled and realise once again, what expectations people have. I personally never felt that I am doing something extraordinary but simply what was waiting along my way I picked up – and I had from the start marvellous people assisting in creating HOPE Cape Town. Living in South Africa creates other possibilities as somebody would have in Germany. But I believe that everybody has a chance to pick up a challenge along his way on earth and in doing so, change the course of this world and to assist and help people in need.

I am also a bit scared seeing the expectations of the HOPE Cape Town “family”. HOPE Cape Town is in the phase of restructuring because our possibilities and opportunities have grown so fast and big, that we have to look how to cope with all the workload. So we will add myself and a PA, a personal assistant to join HOPE Cape Town. Grass root work and research are at the ends of our working spectrum, and in between is quite a range of portfolios in need to be covered. Thanks God for the recent addition of Saadeka Williams as a full time HOPE doctor.

Also the Catholic Aids Network is in development. We had a meeting this morning as CAN has now to be registered as a NPO and PBO in South Africa in its own rights. So we met with a lawyer who is willing to do “pro bono” work and assist in getting the constitution right and the applications on the way.

With POZ, the working arm of HOPE Cape Town together with the Justice & Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Cape Town, providing pastoral care for priests, religious and seminarians who are living with the HI virus, there is a whole new area where we have to gain expertise. Today we fixed also our meeting with the secretary of the Papal Council for health care worker in Rome; on the 18.10. we will have a meeting with the Bishop to discuss amongst other topics a possible working relationship in this field. I am very curious to see how they react in the Vatican for such a request of official support. But with or without the support, we have to face realities and we have to tackle them head on. Doing so we are also forced to look into our theology and develop our teaching accordingly. It is indeed a tricky field – but on the other hand: only tricky fields are a real challenge… 🙂

Well, it is time to go to bed – it is 2:46 am in the morning and at 6am a new working day is beginning.

Filed under: General, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Reflection, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

29.08.2009 Religious Leaders Absent in the Anti-AIDS Fight & the POZ initiative

The following article I found today on the website “the body” – and caught my attention:
Religious Leaders Absent in the Anti-AIDS Fight  August 21, 2009
Though they exert great influence in the communities in which they serve, religious leaders are not doing enough to fight HIV/AIDS, said experts at the recent ninth International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, held in Bali, Indonesia. “Many religious groups and leaders are unwilling to address HIV/AIDS and make it a priority. Their commitment level is quite low, particularly when compared to the size of their budget and the amount of work they do,” said Donald Messer of the US-based Center of Church and Global AIDS. “We’ve been talking about HIV/AIDS and the religious groups’ response for three decades now. We’re still talking too much even now,” said Fiji’s Dominica Abo. The “most powerful contribution” religious leaders can make is addressing stigma, discrimination, and biases that put groups like women at high risk for the disease. The epidemics impact on women and children needs to be addressed from a faith-based perspective, said the Rev. Youngsook Charlene Kang of the United Methodist Church in the United States, noting that women account for nearly half of all infections worldwide. “We need to call on religious leaders to educate and create new pathways within our churches for parishioners to learn the role that faith communities can play.” Messer noted that many conservative Muslim and Christian groups continue to preach against contraceptives, including condoms, believing they promote promiscuity. “[Yet] when used directly and consistently, condoms are humanity’s best protection and weapon against HIV/AIDS,” he said. “Some religious leaders are more eager to preserve the purity or correctness of theological perspectives than their task to save human lives.”
I guess, that the POZ initiative of HOPE Cape Town and the Justice & Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Cape Town will make a difference and highlight, that we take the fight against stigma, discrimination and bias serious. By working with and for priests, religious and seminarians, who are living with the virus, we address the double stigma of being infected and being infected as a “sacred” person, so to speak.  In this sense we can see a double discrimination – and of course also the bias, as many church leaders do not acknowledge that the pandemic also is amongst us, the clergy.
I am personally thrilled that we got the permission from the local Archbishop of Cape Town to work in this field – and when I will visit the papal council for health care workers end of the year, I will address it and hope that they join hands to work for a transformation from stigma to charisma.

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

01.08.2009 Can a priest or religious be hiv positiv?

Dealing with HIV and AIDS on an ongoing base, it is interesting to note, that in our church we are always doing something for others, for those who are belonging to the flock, so to speak. But what is with those of us, the priests, the religious, the seminarians, those, preparing themselves for ordination – how do they cope with their infection? Isn’t it like having a double stigma – for seemingly having done something not allowed and this in the field of sexuality – forbidden for those who live celibacy.

Have you ever thought about those of the clergy being not able to disclose because the parishioners, or the bishop, or the fellow clergymen would reject and discriminate against such a person? Having a whole generation of youngsters born HIV positive – how if they receive a calling? Some seminaries or bishops require a medical certificate – being HIV positive excludes them for being trained to be a priest. How many orders don’t take brothers when they are infected? Does God not call people with the virus?

HOPE Cape Town and the Justice & Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Cape Town want to tackle these questions and to reach out to those who are infected and working in the fields of the Catholic Church. We are in the beginning to set up a network of pastoral care, of networking which should reach far beyond South Africa.
http://www.hopecapetown.com/poz

So if you know about somebody, make him or her aware of this offer. I will continue to report on the progress of this initiative – confidentiality is guaranteed and on the website there are the emails of different persons to contact.

Let’s brake the silence about HIV and priests and religious in our own church and let this stigma be turned into a charisma for the person concerned and for the community, he or she is working in. And let us convene the unconditional love of God to all of those, who are serving in the Catholic Church with the virus and all, what comes with it.

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

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