God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

World Aids Conference in Amsterdam

After a conference is always before a conference – but after attending this years World Aids Conference it remains to reflect on what was achieved and what does one take home?

World Aids Conferences are for me always places to listen – to step back from constantly producing or standing in front of an audience but to remain in the back of auditoriums and conference rooms to listen and learn. This year was not different, hearing how other organizations work and applaud their achievements and listen to their worries and concerns is indeed a much appreciated learning curve.

Not all looks good – so we learned in the five days: in over 50 countries worldwide the numbers of new infections are rising again and especially in the Ukraine and Russia but also the Near East we see numbers climbing. In South Africa the numbers seemed to stagnate when it comes to new infections – a situation known since years without a real explanation. There is less money globally to spend on HIV related issues and the 90-90-90 goal of UNAIDS is definitely at risk not to be reached.

On the good side we now know for certain that undetectable means no transmission possible. And it translates in more people tested and put on treatment equals less new infections. But if the laws of the land punish HIV positive people for sexual acts or even spitting with attempted murder – who wants to be open about his or her status? Ignorant governments denying a problem with HIV in their respective country or even countries which prosecute LGBTI people or sex workers can’t count on getting the people on treatment. Politics and law are standing in many countries in the way of testing and treating and with it fostering the circle of new infections. Stigma and discrimination, also in the health sector, add to the problems of not achieving a next generation of zero new infections.

So where does this leave us? First of all with lots of fresh motivation seeing and experiencing the other round about 15000 activists, researchers, doctors, community workers, lawyers; somehow confirming that one is not alone. It is great to mix and mingle and greet and smile and clap hands and feel inspired with all those fighting the same battle.

But it leaves us also with lots of continued and new challenges – the fight against HIV is not won yet, I guess some people were too sure claiming the end in 2030 – the virus remains a nasty challenge to the world and it will not give up easily.

So San Francisco will be next in 2020 – but even there is a question mark. Many activists felt and made it heard that Trump-land is not the ideal place to have such a conference. An ignorant world leader and lots of states with ignorant state laws might not be an ideal scenario for such a conference.

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

Who am I to judge – a developing story

“The history of homosexuals in our society is a very bad history because we have done a lot to marginalize them. It is not so long ago and so as church and as society we have to say sorry,”, so the German Cardinal Marx somehow in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting and it seems the walls of the fortress Catholic church seems to coming down. Even worse Pope Francis re-affirms his “Marxist Cardinal”, as he jokey called him and the tremors can be felt on twitter and in statements all over the Catholic world. Cardinal Napier fears for the worst according to his twitter account and even revokes God’s help on this subject. Also in the USA bishops feel either called to testify to the effect that Catholic wording has contributed to the hate and discrimination of LGBTI people while others see no harm in calling their brothers and sisters “intrinsic evil”. It seems Orlando has taken off the gloves in the Catholic church when it comes to the question of same-sex love and its consequences in life.
This is in principle good so because it opens up a debate and reflection on a seemingly hot potato clerics were not even allowed to whisper loud in the times of Pope Benedict XVI without risking to be reprimanded heavily.  The rifts, the different opinions, the soul-searching can now start in earnest – and as with most things in our days society has been in the lead while the church tries to catch up with matters important for those not falling in the “hetero” category.
I guess if we agree that we all are on our way to understand God’s good creation, if we agree that listening to each others stories without judgement or prejudice would be the order of today then Orlando might become a turning point in the relationship between the biggest faith communities and the LGBTI community in this world. A tragedy turned into a blessing for those at the margins of our church longing to be fully accepted in their God-given way of love and commitment. The teaching of the church always has developed – from how we saw slavery till the judgement on democracy, freedom of religion and so many more – because our knowledge and insight developed. Even in the bible we see this development from a God of war and killing fields slowly being recognized as a God of peace and love and understanding. We as church are always on the way, we always have to listen, to discern – and maybe the biggest sin of a faith community can be to be so anxious of new insights or more closeness to God and his children that there is simply a refusal to walk forward.

Moses, Abraham and all the prophets called the chosen people again and again out of all safety zones to conquer the promised land. All those stories also tell us of failure, of turning back to the seemingly “good old days” , telling us of penance, of God’s willingness to forgive and to continue the alliance between God and mankind.

Let’s remember that the concept of homosexuality is a very modern and new one. No Jew of the Old Testament nor Jesus did know about it. So let’s start to discern, lets start to look anew at what is God telling us – let’s listen to voices like Pope Francis and Cardinal Marx and dare to dream of the people of God including all in his love without labeling some as “intrinsic evil”.

Working in the fields of the HIV pandemic which indeed has hit the LGBTI community the hardest the influence of faith of the lives of people is clearly to be seen. The religious views of Ronald Reagan contributed heavily to the ignorance government showed in the USA when HIV emerged because it was just killing gays. With proper unbiased action 32 million people would not have to suffer today and millions would still be alive. Faith can change the world for better or for worse.

Filed under: Catholic Church, HIV and AIDS, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Orlando

13407203_10154457792963643_1199818576249987981_nTraveling four weeks within the USA to establish HOPE Cape Town USA and visiting five states was quite a mission, but a wonderful opportunity to meet great people, to learn so much about this great country being plagued with so many problems from #blacklifematters, #stopHIVcriminalization to #prayfororlando.

I must admit that the latter really made me think and touched me in a way which I have not really fully understood. There is first the sheer unbelievable feeling to wake up to news of a mass shooting in Orlando – a single perpetrator killing 49 people and wounding another 25 before being shot himself. That alone makes you think about the gun laws in the USA, the unhealthy relationship between the freedom to carry a weapon as a constitutional right and a symbol of independence. The chocolate “Kinderueberraschung”, the chocolate egg with the surprise for kiddies is not allowed in  the USA because it is deemed dangerous for children, but you can buy an assault riffle without any problem. And to make this whole story even more confusing: people on a terror warning list are not able to fly with any airline in the USA, but they are allowed to purchase any weapon they desire. Logic is left in the dark and common sense seems to have disappeared.
But in Orlando, there are more layers – it was in a gay club where people were killed. A presumed safe place where LGBTI folks could relax and feel loved and appreciated amongst themselves turned into a deadly trap. An anyhow marginalized community received another deadly hit again and I must admit that the outpouring of condolences left a somehow bitter taste. Being it politicians or religious leaders voicing shock and condolences – I can’t help but notice the bigotry in their words having words of comfort for those they normally judge and put in a corner of sin and  wrongdoing.
I also learned about the story of “Pulse”, the club hit by this hate crime. The name is a reminder of a person having died from Aids related complications – the sister opened the club to remember his life and to create a place of joy and safety for the LGBTI community mostly hit in the USA from the HIV pandemic.

It is said that the perpetrator has pledged is loyalty to ISIS which brings me to the third and forth layers I am contemplating in the moment. The radicalization of people and the darker flip side of social media. It seems that the world becomes more radical, be it on governmental level or in social life: if you don’t get what you want or you disagree with your neighbor it seems that violence is the way to go for most people. Russia and Ukraine, Israel and Palestine, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq are examples but also looking into Africa, into South Africa where the local elections are due in August: how many counsellors and politicians have been killed in recent weeks and months, just as a result of power play – even within a party? Paris and Brussels and now only yesterday in England MP Jo Cox,  violence and killings mark more and more the political or ideological battle for minds and hearts.

And social media play their part in this big times. How easy is it to bring graphic contents into the world and to distribute it to every corner of it. How easy is it today to sit at home and being radicalized by watching violent videos almost like bloody reality shows. But would censorship be the alternative like the SABC, the South African National Broadcaster having decided to ban all violent protest from airing in the news?

A last layer (of many more in my mind) to mention is the realization that being in the wrong place at the wrong time can be deadly. An old wisdom newly internalized after a trip where everywhere I go there is gun violence and innocent bystanders are in danger. So life is precious and should be lived every minute up to the fullest.

The last four weeks have indeed triggered a lot of contemplation and reflection on how the world ticks in the moment and how much I want to tick with this world in the same tune – or even not. I can even sense a mild form of radicalization, not violent at all but being more conscious about who I am, what I stand for, what is important in life. And that is not only due to all things mentioned but also thanks to the wonderful people I had the pleasure to meet or to meet again: our newly appointed directors of HOPE Cape Town USA: Stacie, Shirley and Joe; Dan and Claudia in New Jersey, Veronica, Inga, Khadija, Tim and Rebaux in California, Rev Neil from the Cathedral of HOPE in Dallas/Texas; Bruce and Diane in Chicago and all those who came to the meet & greet event in Dallas/Texas.

Coming back to the beginning of this blog: HOPE Cape Town USA is established and we file now for the federal tax exemption status. If you want to know more, please visit http://www.hopecapetownusa.com

 

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town USA, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Exhortation “Amoris Laetitia”

Long awaited and finally out – and already there is a flood of comments from all sides of the church spectrum and beyond. So I want to  add my two cents to the growing number of comments and I will do it brief and up the point.
Firstly I am not disappointed and I am not surprised neither, as the exhortation is the continuation of a sincere approach of Pope Francis to move the church in the right direction, but also bearing in mind that he is coming from South America with its specifics.
Style, tone and content is indeed refreshing and I never thought that in parts – when it comes to discernment and the conclusion that nothing in this world is either black or white – a pope confirms what my pastoral approach is since I was ordained a priest. It is indeed with great joy that I read those parts and I feel strengthened. It almost feels like common sense has prevailed and for me personal, I feel much more home again in this church. Even if nobody dares to spell it out: we have had other times in our church where all was only seemingly black and white and whoever was stepping aside was already seen as an outsider in the church or even worse, outside the church. This church is changing under his leadership and guidance.
“Wonderful complicated”, is the description of Pope Francis for this world, for all the different family situations and we as clergy are encouraged to embracing God’s grace at work in the difficult and sometimes unconventional situations families and marriages face — even at risk of obscuring doctrinal norms. Accepting conscience instead of replacing conscience – it really warms my heart to hear such words from the top of our hierarchy.

And yes, there are parts I still think are missing, for example the word “intrinsic evil” in connection with my brothers and sisters belonging to the LGBTI community should have been officially withdrawn and banned, but I guess, being asked to not discriminate means that the use of those words are not allowed anymore. Another contentious issue is the question of artificial contraception where I hoped for some development.

“We need a healthy dose of self-criticism,” so the pope, and with his writings he certainly opens the church up for such reflection. And not only for such reflections but also for a new chapter of being a church not only for the people but walking with the people and seeing and pointing out all the grace being present in the chaos of our lives, our families, our situations.
I think there is so much food for thoughts in this exhortation, starting by seeing grace in imperfection and following through with discovering the lively spirit of God in all human situations. This will keep us busy and if done sincere as a church getting “soiled by the mud of the street” in the process  will look good in the eyes of God.
Let’s hope that the humble and honest reflection of Pope Francis really filters through all the church officials and that we all, being either labelled “progressive” or “conservative” just hold in and reflect ourselves on the rich input the pope is giving with “Amore Laetitia”.

And here the full text in the official translation:
http://w2.vatican.va/content/dam/francesco/pdf/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20160319_amoris-laetitia_en.pdf

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

Truly himself

With this short blog entry I want to salute Pope Francis for remaining true to himself. Be it at Capitol Hill, where he made himself heard without falling into the trap of US politics; be it in Philadelphia where he did not fall into Archbishop Chaput’s trap of bashing LGBTI families – he simply was concentrated on proclaiming the gospel which runs against all those ideologies put forward before the trip even started. Well done and so refreshing to see, to listen and to watch on TV and the social media. The church has changed dramatically during the II Vatican Council listening to the spirit and the church is changing again now led by the same good spirit of God. Ad multos annos.
No to close inner circles, it is a perversion of faith
https://stefanhippler.com/2015/09/17/ideology-or-faith/
http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/pope-francis/homilies

 

 

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Uncategorized, , , , , , , ,

13th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenOctober 27th, 2018
75 days to go.

Ball of HOPE 2018

Join us @ The Westin in Cape TownMay 12th, 2018

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