God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

Asking hard questions

Looking at the social-economic & political consequences worldwide of the Russian attack on Ukraine, there comes a point, where the removal of Putin by all means possible and any means necessary must be ethically discussed.

The UN writes about the global impact of the war in Ukraine:

“The war in Ukraine, in all its dimensions, is producing alarming cascading effects to a world economy already battered by COVID-19 and climate change, with particularly dramatic impacts on developing countries. Recent projections by UNCTAD estimate that the world economy will be a full percentage point
of GDP growth lower than expected 1due to the war, which is severely disrupting already tight food, energy, and financial markets. Ukraine and the Russian Federation are among the world’s breadbaskets.
They provide around 30 per cent of the world’s wheat and barley, one-fifth of its maize, and over half of its sunflower oil2. At the same time, the Russian Federation is the world’s top natural gas exporter, and second-largest oil exporter. Together, neighbouring Belarus and the Russian Federation also export around a fifth of the world’s fertilizers.”

The world is factually a global village and the digitalisation has contributed strongly to interconnect the economies. This means that the unfolding war will bring not only hardship, but also hunger and additional poverty, and with it premature dying of people worldwide.

The full report of the UN titled “Global impact of war in Ukraine on food, energy and finance systems” is available here

Besides looking at the ethical possibility to remove a leader violating with his actions the dignity of millions of people, the current situation has also made it very clear again, that the UN mechanisms, created after the second world war, are not carrying any more the weight needed to send a clear-cut message to those violating international laws and committing war crimes without even making the attempt to hide it.

Looking at other challenges like energy needs and climate change it becomes, especially after Covid-19 and now the attack of Russia on Ukraine crystal clear, that human mankind has to change tune if it wants to survive as the human race. We are not essential to the universe nor to our planet; if we want to live and thrive and create a future for the next generations in peace and dignity, we better get our acts together.

Looking into our world with the mounting numbers of fake news and outright lies, of unashamed violence and exploitation, those ethical questions of how to respond need a new reflection and answer for our time. Philosophers and religious institutions are challenged to come up with guidelines when it comes to political and social actions determining the future of humanity and the human race on this planet.

And to clarify: No, the war in Europe is not really special, as war governs constantly parts of the world. But I believe that suddenly also Europe woke up to this truth and after Covid-19 there is a kind of sensitivity towards challenges. People have woken up to think the unthinkable – a good moment in time to push for deeper reflections.

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

The sound of silence

I don’t know how you as the reader have experienced the last 14 months – for me, I can say I have had times when silence was the only answer I could give to all the challenges I saw appearing on a daily basis.

There was the challenge of the small little bug threatening to disrupt life in a massive way – so many things we took for granted were suddenly gone – and the freedoms we naturally enjoyed curtailed in ways not seen in my lifetime. And as much as it made sense in the beginning, there was always that voice of concern that democracy and civil rights seemed to be very vulnerable and the abuse of power by politicians a real opportunity.

Covid-19 also was the mirror where humanity could see all the failures, gaps and injustices it got so much used to; the vaccination story tells us about a still colonial mindset on both parts – those in the first world donating freely after securing their very own, but also the begging of African leaders while hiding the failures of their own doing, corruption and incompetence. For South Africans, the Covid-19 story will always be connected to a mind-boggling corruption not leaving out the Minister of Health and the department, tasked to save lives and not to play with them. But also Germany had its scandals in this regard; the temptation of power and money is universal…

Having to travel in the midst of a pandemic and often to deal with unreasonable rules and people, who seemingly have lost their minds in theories on COVID-19 and vaccination defeating any reason and departing from the possibility of meaningful discussion, adds fuel to the challenges on the road. The frustration of people and the trauma caused by all the lockdown rules will accompany us for a long time to come.

As a church person the ongoing discussions over child abuse, the refusal of many within the church to understand the depth of hurt and the cheer unbelievable clinging to power in Diocese of Cologne as an example simply added to the rollercoaster of feelings in the last month. Covid-19 has obviously put churches and their relevance for society on the spot – and we can expect more discussions on this topic as we go forward.

Obviously, as chair of the HOPE Cape Town Trust building a campus in the midst of a pandemic where funders and sponsors are fighting for their own survival has its own challenges; still, I am encouraged by the willingness of many to continue support and to encourage in all ways possible. For me, this goodwill is indeed a counterforce to all challenges mentioned.

The sound of silence – being able to switch of all the noise and to withdraw into the silence of your very own, to listen to the whisper of your inner voice confirming who you are and what you stand for – and what really counts in life – this might be the only point of reference to conquer the challenges of our times.

I strongly believe that you can find a meaning or a teaching or a hint or a message in any situation if you are able and willing to go back to your own roots and convictions. Covid-19 might be a great teacher in this regard. There is a chance that we as individuals come out much stronger than we thought – and this strength can be used to contribute to the well-being of society and humanity.

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

A _________ New Year

What should we wish for the year 2021? Should we wish for a better 2021 – or a healthier one? A more successful or a normal one?

At the end of 2020 I guess we all are sitting with a variety of feelings and emotions and trying to find words adequate to end this extra-ordinary year and to envision our wishes for the new year rising up at midnight. We have lived through a year which will ones be marked in history books as a year of the Covid-19 pandemic – and people will read the figures of death like we read and studied it in history about the black plaque or the Spanish flu. All, what remains from the suffering of people, of tears and fights for life will be numbers and cold facts. And life has moved on….

So what to wish for 2021?
Maybe that whatever we learned in 2020 might influence how we live the rest of our lives and that we pass it on to the next generation?
Those paying attention learned certainly in practice how fragile life can be and that all the promises of politicians, faith leaders and our own convincing of stability can fail in a split second. We all knew it in theory, some have experienced it in their own life, but as a global society it was a first for many.
We also learned that our political systems failed their people badly:
China, Communist and dictatorial governed failed the world in containing the virus – the system did not allow for bad news to spread and forced people to hide the truth. Even now in the aftermath, journalists who exposed the lies and cover up are sentenced to prison for years.
The capitalistic systems and democracies also failed their societies – in the USA, the system of the people for the people had produced an egomaniac sexist white old leader making lies fashionable and in his orbit the virus was marginal at best – ignored most times with horrendous consequences for people. In the European Union in March suddenly every country ran amok and the “union” part of a common response was thrown out of the window in no time. The political culture of thinking only in election cycles hindered and hinders till this very day a plan lasting longer than the next election. Visionaries are rare in our times when it comes to parliamentarians.

We also learned that anxiety and fear creates conspiracy theories and that a small minority can get a grip on media and social media, making a rational approach almost impossible. Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Covid-19 failures are in part also products and results of the negative side of social media; Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and WhatsApp need ethical guidelines and controls. If one thing is clear at the end of 2020: human mankind is not that advanced it thought it was – and maybe this knowledge may assist us in another dilemma we face: earth warming and environmental question.

We are part of the ecological system called earth – and we need all the layers and fine-tuned working mechanisms of nature to survive – our 2020 fragility might be the last warning sign for the human race to hold in and reverse course, to become a bit humbler again in how we see and approach our environment.

Coming back to the original question what to wish for 2021:

May 2021 be the year of reflection and turning our lives and lifestyles around, may the vaccine not be the entry door to going back to the normality we left in 2020, but a positive booster which not only fights a virus, but our questionable attitudes towards ourselves, our societies, our environment and our world as such.

May 2021 bring us next to physical health the mental health we need to clearly see our interconnectivity on so many levels. May it bring prosperity based on considerateness for those around us and the ambience we are living in.
May this prosperity be a shared one.

May 2021 the year of practical realisation that we are all in this together, as one human race starting to create a world without racism, starting to heal what has to be healed in this regard so urgently.

May 2021 be a year of more humanity, more decency, more considerations and more true life for all.

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

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

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