God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Prayers needed! Really?

It seems that prayers are in high demand in our days:
In South Africa ANC representatives are making the round in churches and asking for prayers to get their house in order.
In the USA politicians are praying for the victims of Las Vegas and on Facebook and social media the call for prayers is all over, from Orlando to Paris and now back in the USA we are called to pray again. Prayers are needed indeed when one sees the state of affairs in many parts of the world, when one notices the despair of people and the craziness of terror and politics and sometimes it seems terror and politics are exchangeable in the sense that people are hurt, lives cut short and common sense buried.

Maybe it is time to mention that prayers without the appropriate action will fail to do anything good except comforting those trying to  escape responsibility. Contemplation and action, prayer and deeds are interlinked as human mankind is interlinked in the spirit of Ubuntu. Sending good thoughts only work when there is the reflection what I can do to change a situation.
We could pray for hours for the well-being of the ANC here in South Africa – as long as those in charge allow for corruption, state-capture and stealing in their own midst without acting against the perpetrators no prayer will heal this situation. We can pray for hours for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting but as long as those in charge in the USA refuse to take action against the gun lobby being able to do business as usual those prayers are empty and the expression of sympathies a blunt lie.

And it is not only those who are in office – those who have elected people into office are equally guilty if they only pray instead of making sure that those voted in power are doing their work correctly and making responsible decisions. No one, not even the ANC in South Africa has a privilege to be in power – and Jesus might come earlier than expected to Mr Zuma (my South African friends will know…)  – all those in higher offices are there for a time and with a responsibility. And in a democracy the power lies with the people.

Prayer can bolster this responsibility, prayer is making this responsibility more visible as it connects to the divine, to the source of humanity and to the foundation of why we have rules and regulations and a political and social system with certain values and ethics. It is not a fix for failures, the divine does not pop in to plaster over ignorance. But prayer can be the beginning of redemption and turning around a situation. It is certainly as a connection to all beginnings a means to reflect, if necessary repent and try to do better.
Let’s hope that is meant when politicians ask for prayers or pray themselves in the public space and in front of TV cameras. And that people asking for prayers on social media also turn into themselves to look where their responsibility lies besides sharing a call for prayers.

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

Questionable liturgical translation and some more questions…

As a chaplain to sea on a cruise liner, it is tradition also to supply the crew with Eucharistic services during the festive season.  As most members of the crew are Filipinos I was asked to the service in English. After the first responses it became clear that the new English translation did not make it to the Philippines yet – nor was their English good enough to follow the complicated structure of the new English prayers. Latinised English did not do the trick and one could read on the faces of those attending that for them, all the prayers were spoken in a language not only not familiar, but not understandable. I am not sure the guys who did the translation did really consider those attending the Mass. Being closer to Latin means nothing to those wanting to understand their prayers, confusion does not mean more holiness during the service and this kind of translation is the second worse after the old Latin mass in the extra-ordinary form.

Reflecting over this at night I realized how often our church is speaking in a language not understandable to those meant to be addressed by the words. Jesus used simple words and examples to make his message understandable to those listening to him. Academic word constructions does not help the cause nor has it any long-lasting meaning – it obstructs the truth of the good message of God and hinders people to understand the unconditional love of God.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, , , , , , , , , , , ,

18.12.2009 A new bishop..

Since 13h00 local time, it is official: Cape Town has a new bishop and – what coincidence – it is a Stephen. After my home bishop Stephen Ackermann in Trier Cape Town will now be represented by Bishop Stephen Brislin. Without being to superstitious I take it as a good sign.

Who is he, the new bishop? It is amazing to see how thrilled people are to know more about the newly appointed one. Is he progressive, conservative, open-minded, pastoral… ? Especially the clergy has an interest to know more and I am sure the next days and weeks will be filled with whispered what one has heard about the new bishop.

I hope like always that the newly appointed is first and foremost a human being, touched by the love of God. Not more, not less. This is for me the basic to be able to stand despite all the massive expectations of the people of a new diocese and to humbly accept the big task lying ahead of him. A man of prayer and recognition, that we all struggle one in a while to match our vocations, but that we try our best to be good worker in the vineyard of the Lord.

Also for me, a “visiting” priest in the Archdiocese of Cape Town, it is a change of times. Having served under Archbishop Lawrence P Henry the last 12 years, I am grateful for all, I have experienced so far in this Archdiocese and I am looking forward to be part of this new chapter of the Archdiocese of Cape Town, the mother of Catholicism in South Africa.

Filed under: Reflection, Uncategorized, , , ,

28.07.2009 Erawan Shrine

Sitting at the Erawan shrine in the midst of Bangkok, I observe for quite a while the people coming and going: old and young, male and female, school kids, families – it is a constant stream of visitors in the midst of a hectic street crossing at Ploenchit Road – but sitting here you forget after a while the noise of the traffic, and peace and quietness coming to heart. It is amazing and indeed a holy place. Holy, because one can connect with the higher spirits, whatever that means for each of the arriving persons.

I think, we have lost in our church this sense for creating such places in the midst of our living. Most churches are closed and protected – and except for some places of pilgrimage, the church somehow lost the connection to the daily life of many people.

Watching the people, it seems to be so natural coming here, stopping for a while, praying, offering and going again along their path for the day.
For me, this place is a reminder what religion should be in the life of the faithful: a station to come to peace for a while, to connect to our origin and destiny and then, encouraged leaving again this place until the next time.

Filed under: Reflection, , , ,

11.07.2009 The main task of priesthood…

What is actually the main task of a priest? Prayer? Celebrating the Eucharist? Managing a parish? Running some institutions like kindergarten etc.? Being a representative of the institution “church”?

I guess as one goes along in his life as a priest, some focus points are shifting again and again. When you are a young priest, then obviously you tend to fall into activism and you feel, that you can change the church and the world for a better place. If you grower older in your profession, you realise how little you can do to save the world. And depending on the parish you are in, you are either a sort of managing director for your parish or, having several parishes, you are more in church celebrating mass, funerals and other occasions then being really with the people.

For me, after 23 years in priesthood, the answer is becoming more and more simple: My main task as a priest is to tell people that they are unconditionally loved by God. That there is nothing, no failure, no mistake, no action, which can a person seperate from God.  And to be able to tell people, there is indeed one condition for us as priests: that we have to experience this unconditional love for ourselves.  I guess here is where the struggle for many priests starts – to accept themselves as they are and with all their weaknesses and to know and to experience, that God’s unconditional love shines day and night on them. We can only hand on, what we have received ourselves..

This unconditional love to each and everybody, this statement, that nobody can fall out of the hand of God is in my opinion one of the biggest gifts we as Christians can give to the world. This is indeed the most powerful message, we have to offer.  Because this at the end makes life so precious and in need of absolute protection.

The question of course is, why also within the church our behaviour does not reflect this unconditional love. How unmerciful are we often dealing with people, falling “out of line” in our parishes, in our dioceses, within the church? How often are we not witness of our gospel but demonstrating the opposite and equalizing us in doing so with the world and its laws.

Being for so many years chaplain to an immigration chaplaincy means also to encounter many people, who have left the church out of such experience – and now, in a foreign country, suddenly get somehow in touch with me as a church representative again. It is sometimes painstaking to listen to their stories, to feel their anger, frustration and how they feel hurt in many ways.  I am sure in most instances, the priest, bishop or who ever it has been, had not intended to hurt or to be harsh, but time restrains, own frustration, the need of staying within the laws of the church and many other reasons  can be put on the table to somehow justify it. If it is justifiable in any way…

Taking the time for the person approaching us and seeing always the background of God’s love might prevent a lot of harm…

Filed under: Reflection, , , , , , , , , , ,

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