God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

A brief travelling thought…

Coming from again load shedding and flooded/water-scare South Africa, flavored with a war of words and deeds on racism, corruption and the consequences of colonialism

into Europe with its refugee driven and blown out of proportion debates only recognizing black and white in those discussions

before heading to the US showing no mercy in separating kids from immigrant parents based on an abuse of bible quotes while starting a trade war with the rest of the world

well, it becomes clear just looking at those examples that the world in the moment has its moments of madness – many more could be added.

Ideology and power play creating havoc while playing with an undefined world-wide anxiety and pure ignorance – populism at its best undermining any attempt to look at situations in an open reflective manner.

But in all the madness there is this level of grass-roots workers and activists one meets on the way, those who haven’t given up on looking holistically onto the world, accepting that others have the same rights to dream big, follow their hopes and aspirations; on this level one meets those who are able to still distinguish between what serves the world versus what serves certain folk’s self-interest.

And not only this, those just mentioned may be the only ones who are able to keep the needed balance and so reducing the harm done to the human race by this madness unfolding in the moment.

But as the world goes in cycles, there is always hope for better times ahead – where people will reflect and insist more on the unity part in all the diversity found among people. So no need for despair, rather a motivation to keep on moving…


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

Reflection on a conference Down Under

Sitting at Melbourne airport waiting for my long trip back to South Africa it’s time to reflect on this years World AIDS Conference . I remember being in a somber and rather annoying mood entering the plane to Australia. The downing of MH17 over the Ukraine produced not only an unease feeling about flying, but also a sense of real anger that downright stupid politics could translate in killing innocent people high up in the sky. Somber and serious was also the mood at the opening ceremony when a minute of silence was observed before in a rather helpless move the usual declaration followed: “They would have wanted us to go ahead.” Bright heads were lost and honestly we can’t effort to lose one in the battle against HIV and AIDS.

The topics discussed of the conference were as diverse as the visitors. From the scientific portfolio the discovery of how to “kick and kill” the virus presented from the University of Aarhus in Denmark got lots of publicity. Another step in the effort for a functional cure lots of scientists and activists are dreaming of.
Human rights and HIV was another returning topic. As it is now common knowledge, there are three groups driving the infection worldwide: MSM – men who have sex with men, Escorts and prostitutes and IDU – injecting drug users.
IDU’s and Sex for money are in most countries matters of police and justice, driving those involved rather in the dark corner of society. That makes it very difficult to approach those affected and bring prevention, care and protection into those circles.Homosexuality is specially in Africa in the moment a hot topic – US American Evangelists telling Africans how to be an African achieved quite a lot of damage in Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya putting all efforts to hold the epidemic in jeopardy. Unfortunately the churches in these countries played their part to drive the pandemic back in the underground where it will continue to thrive and come up with new infections.

2020 is now the buzz word for an AIDS free generation, but as it became clear on the conference, we might miss the aim because of money constrains. Too many people worldwide are still without treatment or even don’t know their status. Too many in power think that the problem is solved at least for their country and don’t really give a damn about the rest of the world.  We have achieved so much in the last years and it would be more than a pity if we would let go again and give the virus a second chance.

The Global Village was smaller than in Washington but not less interesting to see what others had to showcase . It was a pleasure to mingle and meet people from all over the world and knowing that we all try in our ways to end the pandemic.
The Exhibition Hall was populated by all the pharmaceutical companies and those producing equipment of all kind. Here the same picture emerged which always irritates me: some African representatives coming with their big shopping bags and taking away what they can on pens, note blogs and other gifts. I was standing next to the Imperial booth where one representative reprimanded a fellow delegate that she has already been here yesterday to take all pens she could get a hand on. To no avail: as soon as she turned around the delegate took another load before disappearing into the next booth. I can’t but feel embarrassed by this attitude.

Religion and Aids was also a topic now and then. There was a Catholic pre-conference which seems to happen every two years but rather an insider affair with selected participants. At the main conference I attended one on podium on religion and AIDS and I was honestly not impressed about the Catholic representative from India, quoting mainly all what is forbidden to do according to the Catholic catechism. The amount of people leaving the room while he was speaking spoke for itself. A missed opportunity as the Catholic church has a social teaching which contributes so much in this field and a moral theology which should be opened up to development.  I met with a Catholic activist from the Philippines who interestingly was also part of the pre-conference, himself sponsored by a Australian outreach church. Mentioning the strict role of the dominant Catholic church in his home country he also mentioned that at the pre-conference it had to turn down his rhetoric as in his country one does not speak out to direct when “Fathers” are present.

When I look back now on the entire conference then it seems that AIDS is really taking a backseat more and more. The conference was well organised but without real highlights – yes there was Bill Clinton and as always he drew big crowds and at the final plenum one had to endure Bob Geldorf and his platitudes. Like always it was the input of hard-working scientists and activists which triggered my interest. It’s their hard work which moves the fight against HIV and AIDS forward. The global figures show that simply spoken the danger isn’t over yet and there are still too many new infections and too many deaths to count every year. Stigma, ignorance and discrimination are still prevalent and show their ugly faces every day for thousands of people infected and affected.

The World Aids Conference is coming back to one of the hotspots in 2016 – Durban / South Africa. It is meant to close the gap and to win the battle. That means hard work for the next two years and overcoming the challenges and obstacles lying ahead. We from HOPE Cape Town will surely be part of it and as the conference will be in South Africa, there will be surely be more representation possible than sending one lonely man to down-under 🙂
But for him like for most such a conference is always an energizer moment realising one is not alone. Thousands world wide are lenting their knowledge and skills, their helping hand to end the pandemic and to give back dignity to all those affected and infected. Conferences like this are necessary to learn, to embrace new ideas, to see, touch and feel for yourself that one is part of a bigger movement for the greater good of mankind.

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The world in which we live..

NBC Nightly News broadcast

NBC Nightly News broadcast (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am not sure that is common experience but I was always interested in putting my work and my immediate surroundings into the context of what happens around the world. And sometimes I feel overwhelmed from all the bad news coming via different news channels. But they touch me somehow and influence me in a way I am not sure I can define in a proper way.
Looking around me there is the big scandal of espionage – who ever thought Facebook is not safe now knows that there seems to be all stops pulled to gain access to all emails and chats. I never thought, that internet is safe, but knowing that there is a systematic approach to bend the law and obviously dismiss the freedom and privacy of ordinary citizens under the pretext of security brings this knowledge to a new level and is depressing.
Yesterday the pope visited the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa and urged help for desperate migrants who risk their lives getting there – I am impressed and a bit proud that humanity and a joyful approach to our faith is visible in our leadership. And it feels good that there is a sense of openness again within our church; there is a sense of being allowed to speak out freely and without fear – what a blessing.
Syria – how often have I experienced the hospitality of Syrian people and Egypt where a colleague of mine is stationed – the travesty of politics in both cases shows how little respect our political systems have when it comes to the Arabic spring and it’s people concerned.
From Europe there comes the news that two more people seems to have lost their infection after a bone-marrow transplant, these are some good news from overseas. Here in South Africa we watch with horror the ugly Mandela soap opera – where the fight about the inheritance already has begun before the great statement has even closed his eyes.

We cannot escape the world we live in, and I sometimes wonder, what kind of influence this world has in all the needy township communities, where also news and soap operas impact on the minds and hearts of people. How does it affect the people seeing the madness of the big world and of course of their small world – the glitter of high society life mirrored in South African but also US soap operas but also the obvious corruption of their politicians, the wealth of the few who made it out of poverty and now play big shots in politics and society without being too much concerned about the well-being of their fellow citizens.

Working as a priest and working with people living with the HI virus means working in a micro – environment. It is work on the very personal level of society. But I cannot help but continue to wonder how much the bigger scenario interacts with this very personal level and how the overwhelming flood of information through all kinds of media makes life and touching each others lives more difficult and challenging.

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

Death is always an unwelcome guest

In the early years of the HIV pandemic death was a constant companion of those infected and affected. And the real scandal was that young people were dying, those life still in front of them. In our days death has been put on the backseat and an average person being on anti-retroviral treatment has a good chance to live a life  as long as anybody else. But I guess this does not exempt us from thinking about our relationship with brother death and how we once want to be found by him. Life the life to the fullest every day, I was once again reminded to this old saying and advice receiving note of a friend’s wife being killed in a car accident. Still the smiling, gracious and loving person in the afternoon and all gone within hours after a horrible accident. Shocking and one tries to find words to comfort the man having lost his love of his life – almost impossible. Death has shortcut a relationship which was due to last decades longer and no words, nothing can really prepare for such a moment.
Several hours after receiving the shocking news I had to phone a previous chair-lady of my Parish council when I was still working in Germany. She was death sick, refused further treatment and here I spoke with someone who indicated that she knows every bit of being a dying person, not knowing how much suffering more will come before the kiss of death will relieve her from pain and all the worries coming with it. A family stretched to the limits to accommodate the last days of the mom, mother in law, grandmother and whatever role she took else on in her life. Once again, death seemed to come inconvenient, even when he knocked on the door in advance to make his presence felt.

So how do we want to die – announced or as a surprise to all? Silent in bed or a dramatic farewell in life? How do we prepare for this moment? Maybe in helping each other to live life to the fullest much more than we do in the moment. Living in the presence, not already thinking of the future and what we might be able to do, to say… Maybe in having less regrets and more happiness, fewer fights and more joy? Maybe in reconciling in the eve to make sure there will be no bitter feeling if one is on the way out that very night?

And maybe in understanding that we live on borrowed time, that we don’t own our life or that of our family, our children, our friends, but are invited to take part for a while before they or we move on to higher service. Whatever comes when we close our eyes may come as a surprise to many of us – I am curious to know, but I hope I still have lots of time before knowing it for sure. Life is so precious, let’s take time to live life and not to be lived by a life we think others expect from us.

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

07.12.2010 Reflection while writing Christmas cards…

The year’s rest time is running fast – and while giving another interview for a Berlin newspaper on the pope’s condom comments and sexual moral of the church, I also begin to process all the contacts and results of my journey. Emails must be written, contacts kept and promises fulfilled. At the same time I write my “compliments of the season” via email – electronic means sort of mass communication, but on the other hand: I could never write to so many people by hand. And while adding the email addresses, faces and persons and encounters are coming to my mind, so everybody I sent the wishes a memento is done and the person mindful considered for a while. And it is amazing to see the wave of emails back – and obviously then the standard wishes become real communication, ones catches up, exchanges ideas, hear of the lives of people and what keeps them going. In this sense, the electronic compliment of the season card is more of a possibility to get in touch again after a busy year and not to lose track of those, whose ways crossed my way in one or the other way….

It also brings to mind how blessed I am, with all the people I know, with my friends in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Bangkok, close to London, Wolfsburg and all over Germany, South Africa and other countries of this world – friends who take me as I am, share my thoughts, allow my needs and weaknesses and just letting us creating the space needed to be the person one is and as one wants to be acknowledged and accepted. Sometimes I think I have the best of it all – so diverse is my circle of friends, so open-minded, so friendly, so accommodating…

Yes, I am blessed and in my heart, it is the time of the year where I thank each and everybody of them for just being who they are. I wish sometimes I could bring them all together in one place, but I guess that would create a sort of chaos interesting to observe; worlds would come together and the whole diversity of my personality would be visible in one go. I am sure, we all have that kind of idea once in a while – which at the end entails the wish to be  acknowledged and loved as the “whole person” one is, with all facets. I wrote at another time about the observation, that we – most times – only reveal parts of us to certain people, being shy about other aspects of life, or fear rejection, or feel it would be a disadvantage, or maybe even not care for the moment. We playing roles, being only part of who we are. Maybe it is part of being a human being. Sometimes one is struggling to bring oneself in all the diversity of his/her own life under one umbrella.

Be it as it is – thanks to all those who are playing such an important part in my life – what would I be without you? I am sure in your hearts you feel the importance of this powerful connection – without making much words…


Filed under: Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, ,

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