God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Gone with the wind…

When I visit Berlin in these days, one can see school classes standing at points where in previous times a wall had been erected to forcefully separate those in the West from those in the East. A bloody frontier where people lost their lives just for the sake of politics. And if one looks into the faces of those youngsters coming today there you can see blanks as it is almost impossible to imagine the old times or grasp the meaning of separation. It does not make sense anymore at all.
The same way, I think, our church will look back in the future of times like ours, where e.g.communion was used as a tool of punishment or God abused as a policeman bound to human ways of justice. Heads will be shaken reading statements from Cardinals insisting that nothing has to be changed in our church and that the unconditional love of God has to be conditioned by those not believing that the church has changed over time. It seems for those eternal in yesterday living that they not only deny the present to discover God’s love but that they even deny history to be looked at in a truthful way. Slavery was once ok’ed by the church, democracy and human rights damned as the devils tools to bring people down. The idea of freedom of religion came from Satan himself – all those changes seemed to be none existing in the minds of those whose church has never changed. The deepening of discipline, the development of theology, the constant dialogue between other sciences – all gone with the wind and faded away into non-existence when listening to those high up in the hierarchy of the church now defending almost violently orally and in writings  a static church. And what strikes me most: There is no trust in God walking with his church into new green pastures, there is no trust in the Holy Spirit guiding his church as the people of God through times and there is no trust being called like Abraham into the unknown future of existence. And there is a static hierarchy where those above have all knowledge and those called the laity are only called to be observant members of the church.
One could almost feel hopeless but there is always a ray of light somewhere coming. For me it was yesterday the speech of the pope marking the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops. It was a liberating speech – showing that after years, perceived by many as a babylonic time, some important fruits of the II Vatican Council have been brought back into the light.
The Pope in his own words after words of greetings and I know, it is a longer text, but worth reading:
“From the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome I intended to enhance the Synod, which is one of the most precious legacies of the Second Vatican Council. For Blessed Paul VI, the Synod of Bishops was meant to keep alive the image of the Ecumenical Council and to reflect the conciliar spirit and method. The same Pontiff desired that the synodal organism “over time would be greatly improved.” Twenty years later, St. John Paul II would echo those sentiments when he stated that “perhaps this tool can be further improved. Perhaps the collegial pastoral responsibility can find even find a fuller expression in the Synod.” Finally, in 2006, Benedict XVI approved some changes to the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, especially in light of the provisions of the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, promulgated in meantime. We must continue on this path. The world in which we live and that we are called to love and serve even with its contradictions, demands from the Church the Church the strengthening of synergies in all areas of her mission. And it is precisely on this way of synodality where we find the pathway that God expects from the Church of the third millennium. In a certain sense, what the Lord asks of us is already contained in the word “synod.” Walking together – Laity, Pastors, the Bishop of Rome – is an easy concept to put into words, but not so easy to put into practice. After reiterating that People of God is comprised of all the baptized who are called to “be a spiritual edifice and a holy priesthood,” the Second Vatican Council proclaims that “the whole body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief and manifests this reality in the supernatural sense of faith of the whole people, when ‘from the bishops to the last of the lay faithful’ show their total agreement in matters of faith and morals.”
In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium I stressed that “the people of God is holy because this anointing makes [the people] infallible “in matters of belief”, adding that “each baptized person, no matter what their function is in the Church and whatever educational level of faith, is an active subject of evangelization and it would be inappropriate to think of a framework of evangelization carried out by qualified actors in which the rest of the faithful People were only recepients of their actions. The sensus fidei prevents rigid separation between “Ecclesia” (Church) and the Church teaching, and learing (Ecclesia docens discens), since even the Flock has an “instinct” to discern the new ways that the Lord is revealing to the Church.
It was this conviction that guided me when I desired that God’s people would be consulted in the preparation of the two-phased synod on the family. Certainly, a consultation like this would never be able to hear the entire sensus fidei (sense of the faith). But how would we ever be able to speak about the family without engaging families, listening to their joys and their hopes, their sorrows and their anguish? Through the answers to the two questionnaires sent to the particular Churches, we had the opportunity to at least hear some of the people on those issues that closely affect them and about which they have much to say.
A synodal church is a listening church, knowing that listening “is more than feeling.” It is a mutual listening in which everyone has something to learn. Faithful people, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome: we are one in listening to others; and all are listening to the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:17), to know what the Spirit “is saying to the Churches” (Rev 2:7).
The Synod of Bishops is the convergence point of this dynamic of listening conducted at all levels of church life. The synodal process starts by listening to the people, who “even participate in the prophetic office of Christ”, according to a principle dear to the Church of the first millennium: “Quod omnes tangit ab omnibus tractari debet” [what concerns all needs to be debated by all]. The path of the Synod continues by listening to the pastors. Through the Synod Fathers, the bishops act as true stewards, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church, who must be able to carefully distinguish from that which flows from frequently changing public opinion.
On the eve of the Synod of last year I stated: “First of all, let us ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of listeining for the Synod Fathers, so that with the Spirit, we might be able to hear the cry of the people and listen to the people until we breathe the will to which God calls us.”
Finally, the synodal process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, who is called upon to pronounce as “pastor and teacher of all Christians,” not based on his personal convictions but as a supreme witness of “totius fides Ecclesiae” (the whole faith of the Church), of the guarantor of obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ and to the Tradition of the Church. The fact that the Synod always act, cum Petro et sub Petro – therefore not only cum Petro, but also sub Petro – this is not a restriction of freedom, but a guarantee of unity. In fact the Pope, by the will of the Lord, is “the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops as much as of the multitude of the faithful.” To this is connected the concept of “ierarchica communio” (hierarchical communio) used by Vatican II: the Bishops being united with the Bishop of Rome by the bond of episcopal communion (cum Petro) and at the same time hierarchically subjected to him as head of the college (sub Petro). As a constitutive dimension of the Church, synodality gives us the more appropriate interpretive framework to understand the hierarchical ministry. If we understand as St. John Chrysostom did, that “church and synod are synonymous,” since the Church means nothing other than the common journey of the Flock of God along the paths of history towards the encounter of Christ Lord, then we understand that within the Church, no one can be raised up higher than the others. On the contrary, in the Church, it is necessary that each person be “lowered ” in order to serve his or her brothers and sisters along the way. Jesus founded the Church by placing at its head the Apostolic College, in which the apostle Peter is the “rock” (cfr. Mt 16:18), the one who will confirm his brothers in the faith (cfr. Lk 22: 32). But in this church, as in an inverted pyramid, the summit is located below the base. For those who exercise this authority are called “ministers” because, according to the original meaning of the word, they are the least of all. It is in serving the people of God that each Bishop becomes for that portion of the flock entrusted to him, vicarius Christi, (vicar of that Jesus who at the Last Supper stooped to wash the feet of the Apostles (cfr. Jn 13: 1-15 ). And in a similar manner, the Successor of Peter is none other than the servus servorum Dei (Servant of the servants of God). Let us never forget this! For the disciples of Jesus, yesterday, today and always, the only authority is the authority of the service, the only power is the power of the cross, in the words of the Master: “You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their leaders oppress them. It shall not be so among you: but whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave” (Mt 20:25-27). “It shall not be so among you:” in this expression we touch the heart of the mystery of the Church and receive the necessary light to understand hierarchical service. In a Synodal Church, the Synod of Bishops is only the most obvious manifestation of a dynamism of communion that inspires all ecclesial decisions. The first level of exercize of synodality is realized in the particolar (local) Churches. After having recalled the noble institution of the diocesan Synod, in which priests and laity are called to collaborate with the Bishop for the good of the whole ecclesial community, the Code of Canon Law devotes ample space to those that are usually called “bodies of communion” in the local Church: the Council of Priests, the College of Consultors, the Chapter of Canons and the Pastoral Council. Only to the extent that these organizations are connected with those on the ground, and begin with the people and their everyday problems, can a Synodal Church begin to take shape: even when they may proceed with fatigue, they must be understood as occasions of listening and sharing.
The second level is that of Ecclesiastical Provinces and Regions, of Particular (local Councils) and in a special way, Episcopal Conferences. We must reflect on realizing even more through these bodies – the intermediary aspects of collegiality – perhaps perhaps by integrating and updating some aspects of early church order. The hope of the Council that such bodies would help increase the spirit of episcopal collegiality has not yet been fully realized. As I have said, “In a Church Synod it is not appropriate for the Pope to replace the local Episcopates in the discernment of all the problems that lie ahead in their territories. In this sense, I feel the need to proceed in a healthy “decentralization.”
The last level is that of the universal Church. Here the Synod of Bishops, representing the Catholic episcopate, becomes an expression of episcopal collegiality inside a church that is synodal. It manifests the affective collegiality, which may well become in some circumstances “effective,” joining the Bishops among themselves and with the Pope in the solicitude for the People God.
The commitment to build a Synodal Church to which all are called – each with his or her role entrusted to them by the Lord is loaded with ecumenical impications. For this reason, talking recently to a delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, I reiterated the conviction that “careful consideration of how to articulate in the Church’s life the principle of collegiality and the service of the one who presides offers a significant contribution to the progress of relations between our Churches.”
I am convinced that in a synodal Church, the exercise of the Petrine primacy will receive greater light. The Pope is not, by himself, above the Church; but inside it as one baptized among the baptized, and within the College of Bishops as Bishop among Bishops; as one called at the same time as Successor of Peter – to lead the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches. While I reiterate the need and urgency to think of ” a conversion of the papacy,” I gladly repeat the words of my predecessor Pope John Paul II: “As Bishop of Rome I know well […] that the full and visible communion of all the communities in which, by virtue of God’s faithfulness, his Spirit dwells, is the ardent desire of Christ. I am convinced that you have in this regard a special responsibility, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request made of me to find a form of exercise of the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation.” Our gaze extends also to humanity. A synodal church is like a banner lifted up among the nations (cfr. Is 11:12) in a world that even though invites participation, solidarity and transparency in public administration – often hands over the destiny of entire populations into the greedy hands of restricted groups of the powerful. As a Church that “walks together” with men and women, sharing the hardships of history, let us cultivate the dream that the rediscovery of the inviolable dignity of peoples and the exercize of authority, even now will be able to help civil society to be founded on justice and fraternity, generating a more beautiful and worthy world for mankind and for the generations that will come after us.”

(Translation by Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, English language media attaché, Holy See Press Office)

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

Humanae Vitae syndrome

I am used to page every morning I do have access to internet to browse through all the news, obviously as a Catholic priest also through the Catholic news world. And somehow reading through the last months or so brought up the thought that our church is suffering of a sort of “Humanae Vitae syndrome”.  I don’t think I have to mention how ill received the decision of Paul VI was with most of the faithful and generally around the world and even years and decades of Catholic teaching did not change it. It is a reality even our Pope Benedikt XVI acknowledges that Catholics around the world do not obey the rule not to use contraception and have this kind of family planing.
This is by now means a dogma nor put it in doubts the essentials of Christian teaching, believing in God, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the working of the Holy Spirit. But it seems that this topic is distracting us as the church from being heard or taken seriously in other moral or ethical matters and as a matter fact: never has the majority of faithful embraced or adhered or accepted this vote of Paul VI. The latter makes the teaching even more difficult from a theological point of view. At the end it all has to do with sexuality and it’s connection with sin as proclaimed by Thomas of Aquino and before St. Augustine.

Reading now through the news I just realise how much this question of sexuality is still bordering us as a church and leads us to fights which might be preventable if you just listen to science and new research, the other way of finding God according to our pope  and both cannot contradict each other for this reason.  Melinda Gates, a Catholic is under heavy fire for her campaign to bring contraception and family planing to those areas in the world where poverty is prevalent. The US American Bishops go to court and do a “fortnight for freedom” to battle a health reform which brings so many blessings to Americans. But the questions of contraception overwrite it all, it seems.

Seeing it in the context of sexuality – Scotland’s bishops are gearing up for a fight against same-sex partnerships on the civil side and declaring, that “marriage is under threat and politicians need to know the Catholic Church will bear any burden and meet any cost in its defence”. In Australia one can read the same story and in Uganda, the Catholic Church sites with people, who demand the death penalty in the context of same-sex love.

Have a look at the USA again and the battle of the Catholic nuns, specially the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). About 80% of the 57,000 U.S. nuns  and sisters belong to the LCWR. The Vatican announced that the group’s leadership and programming would be taken over by three bishops because their stance on sexual issues are not identical with the teaching of the church. The same applies to the case of Sr Margaret A. Farley, R.S.M and her book”  Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (2006). The Congregation of Faith wrote to the most respected Catholic theologians in the United States: “”Among the many errors and ambiguities in this book are its positions on masturbation, homosexual acts, homosexual unions, the indissolubility of marriage and the problem of divorce and remarriage,”

For myself, I also just want to mention the field of HIV and AIDS where the stance of the Catholic Church does not win her friends despite the fact, that our church is doing so much in this field which is good. To give answer meant to different questions like the condom question which can be in the cases of HIV and AIDS a question of life and death is simply not good enough anymore. And to mention, even as a sideline remark, that condoms aggravate the problem is more than questionable.

I wonder why those topics with sexual connotation are really that important to the faithful that we spend so much time and energy and money and dedication to it. Are there no more important issues? Isn’t it time to reconsider and reconcile our non-dogmatic teaching and put love, faith and hope to the front of our sermons. And acknowledge that we part of civil society, but that civil society is more diverse and has other obligations then we as a church. We can voice our concerns, we can contribute to discussions and we should do so. And otherwise we should concentrate on all those topics where the world is in flames: human rights, dignity, enough food for all, ethics of politics and economics, bio-ethic… – just to name a few.. It is not that those involved and silenced and ignored have the intention of throwing out the whole of moral theology and teaching. Their intention is clearly to enhance the way we see and judge situations in life and to develop our theological and pastoral standing. Or simply to give honest answers to the questions of todays faithful.

And within this context one has to mention the Sensus Fidelium; that is  what the Christian people believe, accept, and reject. The Sensus Fidelium is connected to the promise of Christ to protect us from error with the guidance of the Spirit. Church hierarchy have taught what to believe, accept, and reject, but always with acceptance or a corrective response by theologian and the faithful even from the very beginning, as described in the Act 15. Obviously there has been in increase of faithful till today – so the Sensus Fidelium is a challenge. In conjunction with”Ecclessia semper reformanda” (The church must always be reformed” the challenge becomes even bigger. And maybe here lies the biggest question mark: Is the hierarchy willing to listen, to recognise and honor the fact, that the faithful and the theologian have a major role to play in developing of the theology. And is the Role of the Congregation of Faith not also in facilitating this process instead of only marking where freedom of speech and academic teaching with in the Catholic Church is at it’s very end. So a transformation from “watchdog only” to facilitator of serious dialog in the framework of the Sensus Fidelium.

And nobody should say that the church is not able to change the decision of previous popes. Slavery, democracy, freedom of religious choices are examples how much the church has changed. And Benedikt XVI has done it just now with the words “pro multis” in the Eucharistic prayer – and he argues that we have learned more and most put it into practice. I salute him for his courage and I hope that this also applies to other topics.

We need a serious dialogue, which it looks to me, parts of the German episcopate in their “Dialogprozess” have started. I salute them for this.

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

10.10.2009 Are you still a priest?

I am not sure how often I have been asked that question. Even this evening, after supplying mass in a local parish people are worried about my status of priesthood. Many are confused about being a priest, but not having a fixed community to serve. Well, even when it was the 11th hour – I remain a priest and in employment of the church. The next question people ask is about the Fidei Donum priest – most have never heard of it.

Fidei Donum is the title of an encyclica of pope Paul VI where he encourages western churches to give priests to churches in developing countries. Most Fidei Donum priests of my diocese are in Bolivia as we have a partnership between Trier and Sucre in Bolivia.

The agreement says that I am now for the next 5 years as a Fidei Donum priest here in Cape Town with the portfolio of HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town, Catholic Aids Network and other entities and besides that, I will supply for parishes in need of a priest for the eucharist.

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

31.08.2009… turns out to be a blessed Monday…

It is Monday afternoon when I have a contact with my Bishop in Trier. And now it is official:

I will serve for the next 5 years here in Cape Town, working in the fields of HIV and AIDS, specially HOPE Cape Town and the Catholic AIDS Network and all, what comes with it.  After being a chaplain of two German speaking Catholic Communities the last year, I change to be a “Fidei Donum ” Priest – means a present of the faith. The expression comes from Paul VI and one of his documents (Encyclical Fidei Donum), asking the European churches to give priests to the developing world to assist in the development of the local churches. Admitted, meanwhile it seems that the European churches need assistance.. But nevertheless, it still is a working mechanism, specially for the church in Latin America.

I am grateful and relieved, that after a year of unpleasant experiences and disappointments a constructive talk was possible with my new Bishop in Trier and that this constructive meeting turned the situation into a solution which is beneficial to the church, the people and also takes into account my talents and charisma. It shows, that we are able within the church to find good solutions, if we only want to…

Living at the Cape of Good Hope, working with HOPE Cape Town – so nomen est omen… somehow it seems.

What does it mean now for me in practice?  I will start working on the 1.10.2009 for HOPE Cape Town and the Catholic Aids Network – leaving my offices at the Mediterranean Villa, the community center and occupying offices in Newlands and at Tygerberg Campus of the University of Stellenbosch. And I am invited to supply for the Archdiocese of Cape Town, whenever time permits and need arises. So I stay as a priest within my church and work in the fields I have gained some knowledge and expertise the last years.

It is indeed sad to leave the communities, but it is also exciting to know, what lies ahead and to be able – after one year of being tossed from one corner to the other – to plan ahead again in a systematic way. So it was more than an ordinary Monday, I came home blessed with a final decision, a perspective and lots of ideas how to pursue the new task. Indeed, miracles happen in our days…… 🙂

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

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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© Rev Fr Stefan Hippler and HIV, AIDS and HOPE.
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