God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

Thoughts, inside, comments of a Catholic priest

Thoughts of an unapologetic whitey on #SaveSouthAfrica

I am reading the opinion piece “Here’s why white people cannot demand solidarity” – posted somewhere on social media under the headline “who’s rally call and why is it anyhow?”. On the morning of Friday, 7th of April 2017, the day most serious South Africans try to rescue their country from greed, corruption, downgrading and incompetent politics while MK “Speer of the Nation” soldiers still try to play war in front of Luthuli House my thoughts go back where I am coming from and what I have learned so far living 20 years in South Africa:

First and foremost: I don’t want and I will not apologize for being born white and in Europe – nobody chooses his or her place of birth – and whatever system is in place is taken in the beginning, till reflection sets in, as a normal environment.
I grew up in the small little town of Bitburg – those knowing the history of the city know that Bitburg harbored one of the biggest US American airbases next to Ramstein. So for me – in my childhood I was aware that people have different skin colors – which not really mattered – but we knew: black people are rather richer people as the US Dollar was strong at that time.
When I entered adolescence – news from South Africa were made more and more available and I learned about a small tiny Archbishop in Cape Town and the call for a boycott of South African goods. Empathy for the “poor suppressed black people” far away grew by the day – and I remember still very vivid how we followed the call of activism and tried to convince the adults: “Don’t buy apples and other products from South Africa”. I am not sure about the checks and balances at the end – but those small little and also big activities against apartheid were at least as much as important to bring down the unjust system like the liberation struggle on the grounds of African soil. Nobody has the copyright of solely liberating South Africa.

Having the chance to work in South Africa – the new South Africa with all the dreams and yearnings of the so-called and so often praised rainbow nation – and the possibility to personally meet and talk with my heroes of youth, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the late President Nelson Mandela have been ever since highlights in life so far. Working in the fields of HIV in all different levels of society has grown my empathy and my understanding of the human race. I do reflect on where I am coming from, what advantages I have had in life so far – I see the dark and inhumane side of history in South Africa – but not only there: apartheid, colonialism, extortion, abuse of human rights – I acknowledge the role, Europeans have played and are still playing and I see the riches of African culture being often suppressed till today.

But I can only acknowledge and learn from the history and apply my learning’s with empathy  in the present time to create a future where mistakes of the past should be avoided. I can only continue to strengthen and communicate my firm believe that there is only one human race, that skin color does not matter for me and should not matter for anybody. As a Catholic priest being part of more than a billion faithful from all over the world I know what power lies in the faith of being just a brother or sister for each other under one divine mystery.

I also have learned from history, that liberation armies – look at South America or even Africa – need at least a generation to understand that they are not at war anymore but needed to transform in real political parties with understanding of what democracy means. So what we see in the ANC in the moment is history repeating itself because the cadres have not learned out of history and the poor will suffer again.

This is one of the reasons why I march today – reminding myself and others that we don’t have to go the same disastrous cycle if we learn of history. I do march today not because I want to have any privileges back or sustained or because I demand solidarity; it’s the other way around:
I give solidarity to those suffering the most: the poor, those who did not make it because of mistakes of politics, but also because of the greed, the corruption, the incompetence and the ignorance within our political system.
I march today for humanity, for the dream of those having given their lives in the struggle – millions of dreamers who either fought on the battle field or attended concerts to “free Mandela” or begged the people not to buy fruits from an inhumane system.
I march to keep going the dream of a just and non-racial society being able to see the pains of people and to be willing to start the process of healing guided by wise men and women in government, in churches and other institutions.

I march with empathy and solidarity for all and with all who share this dream knowing that there is a long way to real freedom, but if we walk together every day a little bit, we will reach it – a healed society becoming again the beacon of hope for a continent, which was long written off, but – and this is my firm believe – will be on the forefront of a renewed global village in the future – the cradle of mankind a living hope for all our brothers and sisters.

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

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, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Observations on the racism question

Much is spoken and written about racism in South Africa and I don’t want to repeat all the wise or not so wise words put into the public domain. So just some observations and questions from my side concerning South Africa:

I notice that the racist card is used politically to destroy and harm the political competitor and to badmouth people. I also notice that the pure motion #ZumaMustFall is suddenly a question of race even if this is clearly a sole question of political leadership. Zuma can be white, black, pink or green – a perceived corrupt and incompetent politician remains the same independent of skin color.  The notion of the ANCYL to put even the #FeesMustFall on a racist note shows even more the absurdity of using the racist card as most students protesting are indeed black students. On a positive note it shows clearly the emptiness in this case of political motivated talk.
Without a proper definition of “racism” and a proper use of the word this debate is only emotional but not substantial. In the light of a disaster scenario in the education sector of South Africa one can obviously not expect this real debate to happen.

I have asked myself what it means for a country when the tweet of an unknown and not socially relevant person like Sparrow can bring up the worst emotions in a whole nation. Does it not indicate the brokenness of a wounded society yearning for healing. And does such a society not need healing instead of stirring the pot, does it not need wise leadership instead of corruption as a principle of government?

I also have questions about BEE – does it really serve the majority of previous disadvantaged in the country? Seeing the education system almost in shatters – is it not that only proper education brings equality and not putting people in places where they either can enrich themselves or they are simply not competent enough to fulfill a job? BEE can turn easily into discrimination, into feelings of entitlement and the loss of needed capacity and skills. It sounds nice to preach about revolution – but the kids of the revolution are always future victims, look into history.

Our president plays the race card as well, stating that he is attacked because he is black and uneducated – and let’s be honest: it needs skills to guide a nation of wounded ones, it needs special skills to know about the economics and to be a politician of statue in our world so globally interlinked. But this is not at all a question of skin color.
I also note with concern that the opposition party of the DA is now starting to run with the racist card, announcing to look for more black skin color to fill the upper ranks.  Not to forget the EFF claiming the whites stole the land without recognizing that history is much more complicated and that before the white and black man there where the Koi and San people living here. Life and history is always grey – and the debate about racism, about history, about who we are, where we are at in this moment in time and where we want to be demands honesty from all sides.

Maybe it is wishful thinking but I hope and pray that South Africa finds its way back to a sort of rainbow nation as dreamed by Nelson Mandela, because seeing the state of affair in the moment, his scenario is by far the better one than what we have in the moment. But to achieve this we need honest, non-corrupt, dedicated, service orientated leaders and the skin color should not matter at all. And we need the majority of the society educated and willing to grasp anew the dream of a new South Africa.

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

Farewell “Christliches” Abendland (Christian Occident)

Arriving back from Europe with lots of fond memories about the HOPE Gala in Dresden and all the other great events I have had the pleasure to participate or contribute, I can’t help but feel a very deep unease regarding the so-called refugee crisis I have seen first hand and the reaction of my German brothers and sisters. Knowing that we Germans always have been blind on the right eye it is nevertheless appalling to see how many people suddenly shift their emotions and reactions loudly into a corner of anxiety and protection of the so-called German identity. History seems suddenly to be static – as if the present state of affair has always been and will always be the only one possible. Creatio ex nihilo – Germany existed since eternity and is now overrun – historic developments never took place… ?

The idea of Europe was officially founded on values like human dignity and human rights and a decent life for all, but it seems in practice it was all about finances and markets but not about people. While the “Christian roots” of Germany and Europe are mentioned at every demonstration against those fleeing to Europe, practically the value of welcoming the stranger, especially the one searching refuge seemed to be scrapped from the holy book and it’s heritage. There are too many coming, I hear again and again.
And yes, I do agree, there are indeed many coming, but has nobody been able to read the signs prior to the stream of desperate people building up in recent months? Has nobody noted that selling weapons and looking on while a country is completely destroyed in the case of Syria can’t go together for long? Has Germany thought with the Dublin agreement that Lampedusa and all other places in the South of Europe will remain nicely far away from the German way of life? Has nobody noted that cutting the funds for the refugees of the Syrian civil war in Jordan has given them no other chance than either dying in Jordan or trying their luck somewhere else?

It is appalling how especially people in politics carrying the “christian” and “social” label in their party name suddenly seems to have episodes of Alzheimer when it comes to all those hard questions – and there are many more to ask. And no, lets clarify that also: it’s not about being a “Gut-Mensch”, a softy wanting to do always good. It is about the question how ethical it is to have built up wealth by exploiting other countries, earning money on weapons sale, giving Sunday sermons in Parliament and then declaring practically that human dignity only is afforded to those who had the luck to be born in Europe. It’s about an attitude of the rich and mostly white West which touches ground with and is related to the discrimination of black people or South American refugees in the USA. It simply touches on the often outspoken discomfort, African people have when they deal with Europe – somehow related to skin color.
But it obviously also touches on the very basic fact that world politics seemingly dictates the European support for incompetent autocrats or dictators in developing countries as long as they keep quiet about the exploitation taking place or even are complicit to it.

The refugee crisis is a watershed for Germany and for the united Europe – and if they not find adequate and humane answers it will proof again that human mankind has still a long way to go before it recognizes how much it is interlinked, depend on each other and cannot afford to build walls and fences but must invest in the dignity of every human being. Otherwise let’s bid a final farewell to our European Christian roots.

 

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

USA and the complexity of the world

11 days of traveling in the USA coming to an end.  Since 2 years HOPE Cape Town tries with the help of friends to establish itself as a fundraising NGO in the States. Finally this time things are coming together and it seems a way is found to start in earnest with our efforts to raise funds for the work in the Western Cape. Having an offical representative in New Jersey voted onto the advisory board of the HOPE Cape Town Trust helps a lot. The USA is not South Africa – laws and requirements are different and since 9/11 the trauma of the US nation dictates a lot of scrutiny channeling money from one of the 50 states to Africa or any other part of the world.

It is worth noting that the Catholic Church also plays a big role in this, assisting in setting up and bridging the time until the process is finalised and HOPE Cape Town Trust (USA) will be established in the first of the states. It was great to see how an entity like my church can be of help with its structures and abilities and so speeding up the process of helping others in need. There is still a long way to go but what are 2 or 3 years more compared to eternity :-).

In the time I have visited the killing of an 18-year-old black youngster through a white police officers were not only constant headlines but also led to unrest in St. Louis (Mo). The little suburb of Ferguson brought again onto the light the problem of race and justice. As somebody living in South Africa, where race is often still determining how a person sees himself, it was somehow eye-opening to understand that the question of injustice does not stop at a certain nation. It seems to me that the perceived inferiority of Afro-American or the perceived superiority of white people is a worldwide problem manifesting itself quite harshly in the “great nation on earth”. It is a clear expression and outcome of a cruel world order, especially when it comes to economic justice or the power balance in our world. And having visited the National Museum for Indian History in Washington, I have learned anew what I already have somehow know before: How much also my church has contributed to eliminate old ancient tradition and forced people to take over the white European lifestyle. While Christianity absorbed so much from the European (Greek and Roman) habits and tradition and converted its meanings, it failed to do the same often on American or African soil. This is indeed a problem we have until today and whoever is observing the reactions on Pope Francis from the neo-conservative side will pick up that his “latin-american” style is seen as a treat to European structured theology and hierarchy.

I am always thrilled to see and learn how inter-connected the world, it’s past, present and future, is and how important it is to learn from the past to understand the present time. It is indeed also the only way to prevent from injustice happening again even if it seems that humanity does not learn and has to go through all the trials and errors again and again.

What has survived through history is for most people the compassion and will to better the world – and that brings me back to the beginning and the fundraising efforts which would not be possible without this life line of hope. And it is indeed the only hope we have, that despite all the failures, of the systematic injustices there have been always people and there will be always people who care about their brothers and sisters near and far away.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Trust, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

12th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenOctober 28th, 2017
6 months to go.

Ball of HOPE 2017

Join us @ The Westin in Cape TownMay 13th, 2017
20 days to go.

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