God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Lent in the times of SONA

Ash Wednesday – a time marker to reflect the beginning of lent. Lent is for Christians a time to reflect on their lives and to prepare for the big feast of Easter – celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Germany you also have the political Ash Wednesday – where a political party tries to set it’s mark with sometimes over the board speeches to score points before elections or to satisfy their electorate.
This year in South Africa the religious and the political Ash Wednesday are close together with today’s religious ceremonies and tomorrow the president’s address to the nation. It actually started already yesterday, where clearly lawyers for the president and the chair of parliament conceded that they were wrong in their actions in a constitutional court proceedings about the actions of the President of South Africa.  It was a classical turn around and if meant serious an example for remorse and repentance – even if in the world of the courts this only counts as litigation during sentencing of an offender.
So Ash Wednesday may mark this year in South Africa on various levels a time for serious reflection – on an individual base people are called to reflect on their lives, make corrections, ease their burden and try to regain a positive energy and outlook on their respective lives to fulfill their calling and vocation. The church recommends cutting down on luxuries as a means to simplify life and be open for things really important and counting in life.
Society is also called to have a look on its habits – and with all the turmoil in our society, from #RhodesMustFall via #FeesMustFall to #ZumaMustFall; a dwindling economy, a realization that racism is not conquered completely in this country and that old wounds haven’t healed yet there is much to reflect and to correct. But for that we need a moral and political leadership which the ruling party is not willing or able to give in the moment. We need a change of hearts from those in political power.Politicians from all parties are called to look very closely whether they serve their own interests or those of themselves and their followers. No party is immune against corruption, power hunger and self-love and the thought of an importance, which warrants perks of various sorts.

The Catholic Church has called for a “Year of Mercy” – mercy towards others, but also mercy towards oneself. It tries to make visible, feel-able the unconditional love of God towards every human being. But this mercy can only work if one is open to receive it. And openness means to reflect and realize the own situation without make-ups and touch-ups. It’s a mercy which wants to change human lives on all those levels of individual life and social life. I guess in South Africa, we need tons of mercy – let’s start allowing it to flow into our society, into our lives so that Ash Wednesday 2016 might be the beginning of a new chapter in the new South Africa. At least this is my wish for this years beginning of lent.

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

Being silent…

Being silent at the beginning of the new year seems to me the only way of responding to all the madness happening around me. I can’t remember a year having started so chaotic and full of negativity. Looking to South Africa, we see the aftermath of the irrationality of our president for which mostly the poor will pay dearly. The Rand continuous to fall and the political parties are busy to capitalize on a very unhealthy social media storm over racism. In Africa it seems more leaders are tempted to extend their ruling into a life-time dictatorship and the battle between Daesh or ISL and the rest of the world continuous to cost precious lives. In the USA Donald Trump, since yesterday supported by Mrs Palin shows that even the word ‘stupid’ can be topped and in Europe the bill is paid for having a European Union not built on social equality and human rights but purely materialism and finances. The refugee crisis in Europe reveals the shadows of the so-called Christian Occident.  Looking from politics to the churches it seems that there are also wars going on – in my church it seems that preaching the gospel and trying to bring it to the people does not sit well with some of the people higher up the hierarchy or in the administration of the Vatican while the Anglican church seems to be split answering the question whether God’s creation of different people with different preferences was a good question or should be welcomed by God’s own people.
But there is the Year of Mercy – the door of mercy is wide open since the beginning of December and maybe this is the only ray of hope in this chaos of uncertainty, brutality, stupidity and maybe even clash of cultures and civilizations. I ask myself where will we be at the end of the year? Will reason and love prevail or will the world continue to spiral into the darkness of self prophecy and negativity? I am not sure – I will wait and see, but continue to do my little bit in the hope that all those millions of unnamed decent people doing the same by following their dream and vocation overcome at the end the madness of a world where according to Oxfam the 26 richest persons have as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population. And the richest 1% now has as much wealth as the rest of the world combined. Not sure I can be silent about that…

Filed under: Africa, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mercy is needed – acknowledgement of realities also

Continuing to watch and follow the synod I must admit that the synod meeting unfolding in its second week brings some interesting insides: Cardinal Dolan forgets that he has signed a letter, Cardinal Sarah brings the Gender theory and ISIS together on the same level, talking about two “apocalyptic beasts” and what stroke me most is that seemingly the highest rank in our church does not understand the continuation of a synod as an institution rather than a single event. Vatican II and its consequences seems far away judging from the published content of the mysterious letter signed by Cardinals Dolan, Mueller, Pell and some more.
I also notice that the word “mercy” could become a bit of a trap, if used to cover up for a change of realities. To elaborate: In this moment in time the Synod is considering not the doctrine but the pastoral care. To have an appropriate answer of care towards people living in today’s situation one has to acknowledge this situation, but also realize the advances in academic reflection. Otherwise the trap is to remain unchanged but just use different language – which seems to be on top of the list for most synod fathers. So I am just merciful if you can’t live up to my expectations but all the expectations are exactly as they have been 100 years ago as well as the general situation and nothing has changed.
I admit, this is not an easy task:
We have to see that the teaching of the church and the pastoral care in terms of marriage has been developed over centuries and it was not fixed from the beginning and the times of Jesus. We also have to acknowledge that the orthodox sister church developed an alternative way of dealing with failure which was never condemned or even really questioned by the Western church. We have the fact of longer lives, a complete different understanding of sexuality and gender. And we have certainly a different and more developed understanding of God’s commitment and unconditional love than e.g. those people living in the middle ages.  The earth is not flat anymore and our planet is not the center of the universe. Human development is accelerated and when previously it took a hundred years for changes to be noticed or even implemented, it takes now only a couple of years.
We are the people of God on pilgrimage through times and we have to ask ourselves what all this means in relationship to God and each other now in this point in time. Human life, human situations, human knowledge changes, the factor not being changed in all this is the mystery of God’s love speaking of marriage as a grace, a blessing, and a lifelong covenant of love.

So lets talk about mercy within the acknowledgement of a changed framework of people’s living and if we do so, we will be close to God in whose image we are made and who’s unconditional love keeps us going day after day. Doing so, we will life a dynamic faith as it is indeed needed to keep a relationship between God and human mankind going. Relationships are always dynamic, otherwise they are dead. At least the lively debates of the synod fathers we can only imagine when listening to the daily briefing via the Vatican Press Office show that all is not lost in our church and that alone gives hope. And for those who are so anxious about doctrine: Nobody wants to rock the boat and sink the ship, we just trying to come closer to the mystery of God’s plan with human mankind.

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

Synod impressions

As expected the lines are drawn in the sand between hardliners and those giving space to the spirit, but there are also some voices not expected to be heard during the first days of the synod. In his opening statement as a the synod’s general relator, Cardinal Péter Erdő, the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest told the assembly that it was impossible to allow divorced remarried to receive communion. Referring to Pope John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, Erdő said “integration of divorced and remarried persons in the life of the ecclesial community can be realized in various ways, apart from admission to the Eucharist…In the search for pastoral solutions for the difficulties of certain civilly divorced and remarried persons, it is presently held that the fidelity to the indissolubility of marriage cannot be joined to the practical recognizing of the goodness of concrete situations that stand opposed and are therefore incompatible,” he said further and continued: “Indeed, between true and false, between good and evil, there is not a graduality, Even if some forms of living together bring in themselves certain positive aspects, this does not mean that they can be presented as good things.”
This opening statement triggered two interventions, one from the pope himself almost rebuking this opening remarks in stating that nobody is trying the change the dogmatic teaching of the church and that this synod is a pastoral gathering following the first such meeting and from Cardinal Marx. He pointed out that saying in the beginning that nothing can change would mean that the synod starts again where they have been two years ago.
So there is a clear indication that this Synod not starts from scratch again but is a continuation of the meeting two years ago. There is also a clear expectation of the majority that pastoral approaches and languages have to be developed and changed to be able to proclaim the gospel in our times.
Now it remains to be seen how the synod fathers go about it – there is a great variation of opinions from the so-called far right with Cardinals Sarah, Mueller or Napier trying to stop any possible development and those on the so-called left like Cardinal Marx and Kasper.
It remains a question how much the Synod acknowledges the advance in the last 100 years of knowledge of the human sexuality and incorporates it into the pastoral approaches. Especially when it comes to homosexuality and the fixation of the sexual act within the marriage there should be some movement if the church wants to remain relevant. Here we can also see the divide between Europe and Africa, where there is a clear line of disagreement visible how to approach the aforesaid topics. While there are differences in realities like polygamy or concepts like ubuntu the global village is growing closer together. Instead of  trying to keep the lid on teaching versus realities it would be great if the African bishops would contribute in making the teaching and pastoral work of the church more diverse from their own real traditions. The African church has more to offer than defending the old Platonist shaped Roman-European teaching.

I also noted the Canadian Archbishops Paul-Andre Durocher remarks to the Synod, where he proposed three courses of action for this Synod. He asked “that this Synod considers the possibility of granting to married men and women, well-trained and accompanied, permission to speak in homilies at Mass in order to show the link between the Word proclaimed and the lives of spouses and parents. That in order to recognize the equal capacity of women to assume decision-making positions in the Church, the Synod recommends the appointment of women to positions they are able to occupy in the Roman Curia and in our diocesan curia’s. Finally, concerning the permanent diaconate, that this Synod recommends the establishment of a process that could eventually open to women access to this order, which, as tradition says, is directed non ad sacerdotium, sed ad ministerium  which means not to priesthood, but to ministry.

Even if many say that the topics discussed at the Synod are not really relevant for the daily life of people including Catholics – as they have made up their minds already long ago – it is amazing to see the interest in the Synod’s discussion. I interpret this as a yearning of the people of God for spiritual guidance, for meaning in life but in a way touching the lives instead of judging the lives all the time – with one word: mercy and the encouragement to live a life to the fullest. Add acknowledgement of modern sciences and their results and we will develop into a church which arrives finally in the 21st century making God’s love and commitment towards his creation touchable and to be experienced for the people of today.

 

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, General, Networking, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ideology or Faith?

It is an amazing change of hearts I observe with those being on the very right or so-called conservative spectrum of our church: While under John-Paul II and Benedict XVI any criticism of the pope or Vatican decision was deemed inexcusable and punishable, suddenly those very same people start making it an honorable thing to criticize and lament the Synod and the leadership of Pope Francis – the latter still in cautious terms but when it comes to people like Cardinal Burke and others, it is quite obvious. The rules of yesterday are not applicable anymore today. And with the same brutality they insisted in those gone days on obedience without hesitance or second thoughts, they now push the agenda of what the Synod or the Pope cannot do.

As much as I understand the anxiety of people who remain prisoners of their own chosen mental prison and who are now suddenly having to reason any of their stances instead of being able to take it for granted, I must admit that I see with astonishment how hardened people defend their position not willing even to listen to others who are coming from a different point of view. And suddenly doctrine and pastoral theology seemed to stand irreconcilably against each other never being able of reconciliation.  One reads about “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?” and alleged manipulations and the now famous Cardinal Burke stated that the final report of the extraordinary Synod produced a “gravely flawed document that does not express adequately the teaching and discipline of the Church and, in some aspects, propagates doctrinal error and a false pastoral approach”

Do I miss here something or is it really that more than 30 years of a certain style of ruling within the church the people within have forgotten how to talk, how to argue, how to open up to the arguments and considerations of the others concerning matters of the church. Pope Francis encouraged the participants of the Synod to speak freely and to listen without reservations. These are the basis of deliberation and discernment to find consent, to build bridges, to see realities, to encourage dialogue and to give Pope Francis the tools to extract what is needed for the development of the church. Synods are advisory boards – they are not a parliament and they should have the openness to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit who – in my humble opinion – can’t work freely if there is nothing to reflect or to develop as everything must remain as it is.

Ecclesia semper reformanda and so even doctrine means no a static thing but that we as a Church have to listen and search always more deeply what it is at the core; meant to strengthen the people of God and to encourage them to live life to the fullest. I haven’t seen anybody connected to the Synod who really wants to change the core of church teaching, but I have seen many trying to apply new academic knowledge and new circumstances which may lead to not only a new language but also a more developed and adequate application to the realities of people today.

Mercy and the theology of marriage are no enemies and have never been, the knowledge of sexuality and it’s diversity has changed, ways of reading and interpretation of bible verses are developing constantly – there is no need to fear open and honest considerations without knowing at the beginning of discernment what will be the end result. This is indeed new to such a church body and a real chance this Synod with all its preparatory meetings and inputs has created: an open space for minds to challenge each other, for the spirit to flow and to trust, so the Pope, that under the chairmanship of Peter God will show the way.

There is no need to build up theological barricades or fortresses to defend yesterday – look at Abraham and Moses and be aware that faith always means to set out trusting that God is in the lead. If one only holds firm what one knows already there is the danger that faith turns into ideology and that would be the worst outcome of any such church assembly.

Filed under: Catholic Church, chaplain, Politics and Society, Religion and Ethics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

13th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenOctober 27th, 2018
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Ball of HOPE 2018

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

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