God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensée of a Catholic priest

Synod impressions

As expected the lines are drawn in the sand between hardliners and those giving space to the spirit, but there are also some voices not expected to be heard during the first days of the synod. In his opening statement as a the synod’s general relator, Cardinal Péter Erdő, the archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest told the assembly that it was impossible to allow divorced remarried to receive communion. Referring to Pope John Paul II’s 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, Erdő said “integration of divorced and remarried persons in the life of the ecclesial community can be realized in various ways, apart from admission to the Eucharist…In the search for pastoral solutions for the difficulties of certain civilly divorced and remarried persons, it is presently held that the fidelity to the indissolubility of marriage cannot be joined to the practical recognizing of the goodness of concrete situations that stand opposed and are therefore incompatible,” he said further and continued: “Indeed, between true and false, between good and evil, there is not a graduality, Even if some forms of living together bring in themselves certain positive aspects, this does not mean that they can be presented as good things.”
This opening statement triggered two interventions, one from the pope himself almost rebuking this opening remarks in stating that nobody is trying the change the dogmatic teaching of the church and that this synod is a pastoral gathering following the first such meeting and from Cardinal Marx. He pointed out that saying in the beginning that nothing can change would mean that the synod starts again where they have been two years ago.
So there is a clear indication that this Synod not starts from scratch again but is a continuation of the meeting two years ago. There is also a clear expectation of the majority that pastoral approaches and languages have to be developed and changed to be able to proclaim the gospel in our times.
Now it remains to be seen how the synod fathers go about it – there is a great variation of opinions from the so-called far right with Cardinals Sarah, Mueller or Napier trying to stop any possible development and those on the so-called left like Cardinal Marx and Kasper.
It remains a question how much the Synod acknowledges the advance in the last 100 years of knowledge of the human sexuality and incorporates it into the pastoral approaches. Especially when it comes to homosexuality and the fixation of the sexual act within the marriage there should be some movement if the church wants to remain relevant. Here we can also see the divide between Europe and Africa, where there is a clear line of disagreement visible how to approach the aforesaid topics. While there are differences in realities like polygamy or concepts like ubuntu the global village is growing closer together. Instead of  trying to keep the lid on teaching versus realities it would be great if the African bishops would contribute in making the teaching and pastoral work of the church more diverse from their own real traditions. The African church has more to offer than defending the old Platonist shaped Roman-European teaching.

I also noted the Canadian Archbishops Paul-Andre Durocher remarks to the Synod, where he proposed three courses of action for this Synod. He asked “that this Synod considers the possibility of granting to married men and women, well-trained and accompanied, permission to speak in homilies at Mass in order to show the link between the Word proclaimed and the lives of spouses and parents. That in order to recognize the equal capacity of women to assume decision-making positions in the Church, the Synod recommends the appointment of women to positions they are able to occupy in the Roman Curia and in our diocesan curia’s. Finally, concerning the permanent diaconate, that this Synod recommends the establishment of a process that could eventually open to women access to this order, which, as tradition says, is directed non ad sacerdotium, sed ad ministerium  which means not to priesthood, but to ministry.

Even if many say that the topics discussed at the Synod are not really relevant for the daily life of people including Catholics – as they have made up their minds already long ago – it is amazing to see the interest in the Synod’s discussion. I interpret this as a yearning of the people of God for spiritual guidance, for meaning in life but in a way touching the lives instead of judging the lives all the time – with one word: mercy and the encouragement to live a life to the fullest. Add acknowledgement of modern sciences and their results and we will develop into a church which arrives finally in the 21st century making God’s love and commitment towards his creation touchable and to be experienced for the people of today.

 

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

Ideology or Faith?

It is an amazing change of hearts I observe with those being on the very right or so-called conservative spectrum of our church: While under John-Paul II and Benedict XVI any criticism of the pope or Vatican decision was deemed inexcusable and punishable, suddenly those very same people start making it an honorable thing to criticize and lament the Synod and the leadership of Pope Francis – the latter still in cautious terms but when it comes to people like Cardinal Burke and others, it is quite obvious. The rules of yesterday are not applicable anymore today. And with the same brutality they insisted in those gone days on obedience without hesitance or second thoughts, they now push the agenda of what the Synod or the Pope cannot do.

As much as I understand the anxiety of people who remain prisoners of their own chosen mental prison and who are now suddenly having to reason any of their stances instead of being able to take it for granted, I must admit that I see with astonishment how hardened people defend their position not willing even to listen to others who are coming from a different point of view. And suddenly doctrine and pastoral theology seemed to stand irreconcilably against each other never being able of reconciliation.  One reads about “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod?” and alleged manipulations and the now famous Cardinal Burke stated that the final report of the extraordinary Synod produced a “gravely flawed document that does not express adequately the teaching and discipline of the Church and, in some aspects, propagates doctrinal error and a false pastoral approach”

Do I miss here something or is it really that more than 30 years of a certain style of ruling within the church the people within have forgotten how to talk, how to argue, how to open up to the arguments and considerations of the others concerning matters of the church. Pope Francis encouraged the participants of the Synod to speak freely and to listen without reservations. These are the basis of deliberation and discernment to find consent, to build bridges, to see realities, to encourage dialogue and to give Pope Francis the tools to extract what is needed for the development of the church. Synods are advisory boards – they are not a parliament and they should have the openness to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit who – in my humble opinion – can’t work freely if there is nothing to reflect or to develop as everything must remain as it is.

Ecclesia semper reformanda and so even doctrine means no a static thing but that we as a Church have to listen and search always more deeply what it is at the core; meant to strengthen the people of God and to encourage them to live life to the fullest. I haven’t seen anybody connected to the Synod who really wants to change the core of church teaching, but I have seen many trying to apply new academic knowledge and new circumstances which may lead to not only a new language but also a more developed and adequate application to the realities of people today.

Mercy and the theology of marriage are no enemies and have never been, the knowledge of sexuality and it’s diversity has changed, ways of reading and interpretation of bible verses are developing constantly – there is no need to fear open and honest considerations without knowing at the beginning of discernment what will be the end result. This is indeed new to such a church body and a real chance this Synod with all its preparatory meetings and inputs has created: an open space for minds to challenge each other, for the spirit to flow and to trust, so the Pope, that under the chairmanship of Peter God will show the way.

There is no need to build up theological barricades or fortresses to defend yesterday – look at Abraham and Moses and be aware that faith always means to set out trusting that God is in the lead. If one only holds firm what one knows already there is the danger that faith turns into ideology and that would be the worst outcome of any such church assembly.

Filed under: Catholic Church, chaplain, Politics and Society, Religion and Ethics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What do I expect from the Family Synod?

The family synod is coming up and obviously every theologian has some ideas what should be achieved and how the Holy Spirit should guide the participants towards a development of the theology of families and with it some aspects of moral theology. The preparatory meeting and the time afterwards has shown that the gloves are off and that those insisting of keeping it as it has been since the beginning are fighting really hardcore to defeat any development in this field. It almost looks like marriage and sexuality are at the core of the gospel for some in the church and the rest of the message is not that important, hiding behind this epic battle of minds.

For me as a priest, knowing the battles, trials and tribulations of so many faithful including myself but also knowing the history and development of theology through times and ages, it hurts to see that faith is almost turned into an ideology to win this battle. On the other hand, we know from the Acts in the bible that Peter and Paul also had their fights during meetings with the apostle in Jerusalem. And if there would not have been new ways – for some unthinkable at that time – acknowledged, Christianity would still be a Jewish sect.
What is clear that for most people in this world the outcome does not matter anymore, Humanae Vitae has never gotten the “sensus fidelium” and the lonely decision of Pope Paul VI has alienated so many Catholics from the teaching of the church. And it is clear that those, who are still interested of what the church is saying, in their majority expect a development in the teaching, addressing the questions of our times and healing of those wounds, inflicted by a theology, which insists that the ideal is the norm and uses the most important sacrament as a tool of punishment rather than strengthening those in need of it.

So what do I expect from the Synod dealing with family? This is a tricky one, as whatever one says, it will either be applauded or condemned and quick the box is ready to be put in and the key of the lock thrown away. Nevertheless, now is the time to speak out and hope for some development to avoid the same reaction within the still faithful as we have seen after “Humanae Vitae” – a second exodus of people out of the church would be a disaster and very regrettable.

Synod on the family – the first I would expect is indeed the strengthening of the family – the message that is great to establish a family based on Christian values, yes that it makes sense to love and have kids and pass on faith, hope and love to the next generation. Society needs families to grow and develop – families are the future of any society.
Secondly I would expect that the church recognizes that there might be different theologies possible – especially the African continent has much to offer with its traditions, heritage and ways towards marriage and family.  So an encouragement for the universal church to look into the rich treasures of possibilities to develop regional pastoral theology a would be a great achievement for the church as such.

Sciences have developed and there is a gap between theology and the knowledge of sciences when it comes to sexuality. This gap has to be closed because both, faith and the scientific world are two ways leading to God, they cannot contradict themselves. Acknowledgement of this fact and encouragement to talk more without anxiety would be another great achievement of the Synod.
This will certainly lead to a different approach concerning our LGBTI brothers and sisters, the word “intrinsic evil” should be scrapped from the books and at least an acknowledgement that God’s creation is much more divers than it was appreciated by the church until now would be a step in the right direction.
A further appreciation that where there is a committed and loving relationship in our society there is God present would go a long way to heal wounds inflicted of a church experienced as cold hearted by many.
In this context of sciences and faith the synod should also look again at the topic of artificial contraception, but it should not be limited to this framework. Several theologian have opened up venues to debate this question anew.

For the question of divorced-remarried I simply expect that we stop using the Eucharist as a punishment tool and that we look at the patriarchal theology of “oikonomia” in the Eastern Churches leading us to a changed approach and an acknowledgement that the unconditional love of God is especially important for those failing their hope of life-long marriage. Nobody just runs away, hurt, pain, tears and desperation need an encouraging answer as Cardinal Walter Kasper has made clear it with a brilliant consistency in his talks and books.

The Synod on the topic family cannot solve all problems or bring instant change to all what is debated, but it should open up venues to explore, cleaned up ears to listen to God’s good spirit anew, even a renewed way of reading the bible in the context it was written thousands of years ago.  A Synod has the task to strengthen all faithful, to encourage them to live their faith and to be recognized and acknowledged as trying their very best in the way they are created to live a life with hope, love and faith.
The Pope called a year of mercy – and it is not only the mercy for the individual person, but also a year of mercy asked for a church, which tries to make its way through the times as a crowd of sinners and saints, with successes but also failures. A time of mercy, a time of God’s mercy is a time where we are allowed to reflect on our way without anxiety, without fear and at the end there should be the encouragement to walk the way of life with God, to experience his kingdom already now . Church is not end in itself – church has the duty to show the way, to encourage, to love, to bring hope or as the first reading of next Sunday, the 23rd in ordinary time says:

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong”, fear not!
Behold, your God will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
and shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water.

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, General, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Gap

Sitting at the Waterfront in Cape Town I watch the crowd of people making their way through the shops and passages of this No 1 tourist attraction. It is buzzing as always after the day of pay for most of the people. Having read a report of the NGO Oxfam just a bit earlier, I wonder how to reconcile what I see with what was written in the research ” Is South Africa Operating in a Safe and Just Space? ”  In the conclusion they mention that South Africa has one of the highest official unemployment rates in the world (25%) and is one of the most unequal countries, with a Gini coefficient of 0.69. The wealthiest 4% of households receive 32% of total income while 66% of households receive only 21% of all income. Over half of South Africans live below the national poverty line and more than 10% live in extreme poverty, on less than R15.85 per day.
Once again it is obvious which gaps exists between those who have and those who don’t have. All BEE and BB BEE and revised BBBEE has not achieved that the entrepreneurial spirit ignited on a scale changing the destiny of the country. Poor leadership and cadre deployment has done injustice to those aspiring to leave the spiral of poverty, hunger and desperation. It is the millions still living under conditions not suitable for humans which did not get the fair share in the new South Africa. But not all is lost – there is an immense will and dedication in many places to better the lives of those in need and hope never has disappeared. But South African society will remain unequal till the spirit of 1994 re-emerges and people understand that only together we can make it and turn the tide towards a prosper nation. It is also this inequality which makes sometimes working in the fields of HIV and AIDS so difficult: empowerment of patients to understand their treatment, to have the means to dish out good food on their tables, a social network which carries those in need the extra-mile. It is not only about donations – bridging the gap between those who have and those who don’t have means to get to a real understanding of each other and a solidarity which comes from the dept of the heart and not as a feeling of obligation to share some bucks with the poor. Religion could play here a much better and supportive role – if all the energy which goes into the controlling of sexuality and related fields as well as marking the territory against competition or those believing differently into supporting social coherence and healing the wounds of our society, much could be achieved in little time. At least the aforesaid gap could be narrowed and the blessings of the new South Africa could be spread to many more as it is done in the moment.

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

From Internet worries to gay conversion – moments of a week’s work

Often when people make contact with me or it comes to a meeting they ask what a  typical week looks like for me as a priest and AIDS activist and the only thing I can say is: There is no typical week. A lot of time this week was spent on HOPE Cape Town affairs: we getting used to a new computer system which records every meeting, every result thereof and to do so, one needs some training and motivation to get used to it. How much bits and pieces of information gets lost when one not religiously records encounters, offers and follow-ups during the day? I can tell, it is amazing and the older one gets, the less one remembers with all the information streaming in every day. But HOPE Cape Town also changed this week service providers for the internet, email, web hosting etc. and as expected, there are some problems arising until everything is settled. Not being able to access email and information is very disruptive in our days and once again one is reminded how much we depend on it. Connected with this was a meeting with TBWA – a well-known marketing / advertising company in South Africa which does pro bono work for us. After re-designing our flyers it shifts now to our webpage which will be the next object of reflection and changes. All has to do with branding and getting the brand “HOPE Cape Town” known and identifiable in using all instruments available in this department. Doing good and getting the message across is so important , from an informational point of view as well as from the fundraising aspect. Another aspect of work this week was to go through the new employer handbook for HOPE Cape Town – we have to adhere to the South African labor law and this is indeed changing again and again. So the newest version was checked by labor lawyers and now we have to finalize it before it is handed out to the employees of HOPE Cape Town and forms then part of the work contract. On Wednesday I also met with all HOPE Community Health Workers on the issue of the “bonus” to be paid out at the end of the year. Obviously everybody likes a bonus to shop for all the Christmas presents, but a bonus is always at the discretion of the board. It also is a result of merit assessments – and once in a while one has to remind employees that a bonus is paid for exceeding expectations at work; not for doing what one is paid for anyhow. On the other hand it must be clear-cut how an assessment is done and what tick boxes are important to receive a bonus. Surely all important discussion points. HOPE Cape Town also secured it’s first official HOPE Cape Town Ambassador – watch the space, I will not tell here and now who was chosen and accepted gladly.
What else happened the last week?
The Southern African – German Chamber of Commerce and Industry hosted a luncheon with MEC Alan Winde. As a member of the Regional Council I attended this event and listened carefully what Alan had to say about the state of affair when it comes to business and investment in the Western Cape and in South Africa. As new legislation comes into effect regarding BB BEE coming year it is also important for HOPE Cape Town to know the next changes we are BB BEE approved and we would like to keep it that way.
Bavaria and the Western Cape celebrating 20 years of partnership next year, so a meeting to find out how HOPE Cape Town can participate in these events in Bavaria and showcase its contribution towards the partnership.
A meeting with Rev Ryan from the Philippines saw discussions about HIV / AIDS support groups in this part of the world.  I learned that the Catholic Church in the Philippines supports conversion programs trying to get gay people straight – quite shocking for me – as this runs counter all academic research and adds to the burden to people anyhow threatened by HIV and AIDS and the difficulties to come out in a very Catholic environment. It surely adds to the shame people feel as being HIV positive and gay at the same time as it implies that there is something wrong with them besides the punishment of HIV. Somehow the expression “dark middle ages” came to my mind. Conversion as a possibility to get rid of being who I am is on an ethical level as bad as criminalizing is on a legal level. I once again realized how much is still to do….
Exhalation of the Cross – the Catholic Feast celebrated with the Catholic Community in Belgravia ended a week – being reminded of all the crosses people carry and are burdened with and celebrating our believe that the good message of the kingdom of God is told to all and everybody – unconditional love, that’s what we are called for.  And that is a good starting point for the coming week which will bring me to Europe again for a couple of days.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Association, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, HOPE Cape Town Trust, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, SA-German Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

13th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenOctober 27th, 2018
11 months to go.

Ball of HOPE 2018

Join us @ The Westin in Cape TownMay 12th, 2018
5 months to go.

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