God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

As 2016 winds down…

As the year 2016 comes to a close, there is the usual time of reflection. On first view 2016 was indeed for the global community a very sad year: populism was triumphant, in the USA a self absorbed womanizer was elected to be the next president and as even history shows that you can’t run a country like a business as Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand and Silvio Berlusconi in Italy clearly showed – the US system granted victory to the next failure with dire consequences to be seen if I may add. The human race is not learning nor is it able to master and digest what modern science and social media throw at them. After creating the global village and interconnecting with each other – humans are back to nationalism, patronism and guidance by anxiety and promised simple solutions.
In Germany, my home country this all reflected in the drama unfolding regarding refugees, the strengthening of the right-wings, the clash between those following in the footstep of reborn Neonazis and common sense and the uphold of human rights. A battle endangering the European Union symbolized in the Brexit and in the high amount of votes in the Austrian presidential elections. It seems that balance is lost and panic rules.In South Africa 2016 was the year of the Zuptas, the state capture, Nakandla, the SABC8 – and if conspiracy theories to capture a state are known in fiction, it shows reality in the Gupta’s attempt with the help of a president, who surely would have been a great village elders but he is completely out of place as a leading statesman. The mixture of tradition, corruption, brutality, streetwise cleverness is breath-taking and dangerous. And it hurts those suffering the most: the poor people of South Africa.
In this context the systems human mankind created to organize itself are not only abused in a constant way from those in power, but they also develop a perfection which makes them inhumane to its core. The spirits we created are taking over and it seems that compassion, seeing every situation as what it is, indeed a special one, as an impossible undertaking.
An example is the ongoing discussion in the Roman-Catholic Church about Amoris Laetitia: it shows a great example that people are resisting to except that there is no black and white, or in the computer language “zero” and “one” – systems have to be clear cut and judgements have to follow this rule. The law, which is an expression of mercy is seen as a threat to order when applied with the component of conscience and judged situation recognized as unique.
All in all the complexity of life and the interconnection with the possibilities of social media and constant news updates of all sorts seems to overstrain most humans and counter the believe in globalization – the pendulum is going into the opposite direction with a dire outlook into 2017. Anxiety and populism are governing our global village and both are used and abused to keep all afloat for the benefit of a few.

In this scenario the work of NGO’s and community based initiatives like HOPE Cape Town and millions of others are mere drops in the ocean – but those drops seem to me the only hope we have to survive the waves of inhumanity serving those aforesaid few. Those drops are the basis to conquer the negativity and abuse happening in our days, be it religious, social or political – those drops will make sure that 2017 will see rays of hope, rays of faith, rays of love reaching those suffering under the systems which try to maintain the status quo of this world.

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

Nepal and the gender debate

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Messe-83.JPG

Photo via WikiCommons/Sigismund von Dobschütz

While we in Europe and Africa the discussion on gender issues are heating up and churches and some other quarters of society clearly deny any suggestions that gender might be more diverse or partly also a product of society, some countries take realities and sciences into account. I was always thrilled to see that in my beloved Thailand the “katoi” was known as the third gender. And now the Himalayan country Nepal joins such support for transgender citizens.

Currently, Nepal is one of only eight countries that officially recognize third gender citizens, next to Australia, Bangladesh, Germany, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, and Thailand. However, despite first including third gender people on a census as far back as 2011, the Himalayan nation of 26.5 million recently marked an important milestone, issuing its first third gender passport.

According to “Human Rights Watch”, Monica Shahi made history when she received her passport with the designation O for “other,” rather than M (Male) or F (Female). Despite recognition of third gender persons, only a handful of the above listed countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, have issued corresponding passports.

It is indeed a step in the right direction – God’s creation is much more diverse as visible on first sight and I really believe that God has great humor and he enjoys to spice up creation and evolution with lots of colors, shapes and diverse beings. And whatever it is, sex, looks, handicaps – it all carries a divine message we are asked to receive, read and cherish one or the other way. God does not make mistakes – but humans are very much tempted to do so in prescribing God how to run his ongoing creation. Ecology and environment, nature and creation are top on the list since Pope Francis was elected to be the “St. Peter of our times”. In his encyclical “Laudato Si”  he combined bible and theology with scientific knowledge in a way no other writing of a pope has done before and it is only consequent to develop this combination of two ways of discovering God in all those other fields where we need answers to questions of today’s world and society. This also might mean and will mean robust debate, careful listening to each others positions, and surely being open to be surprised again and again how God works in mysterious ways. And one is for sure: faith and sciences as two ways of getting to know God and they can never really contradict each other – they always will support each other even if it takes time for us humans to understand and acknowledge it.

 

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

What has it really brought… the conference???

Being back in South Africa and back at my working desk and in my working environment the question remains and I am often asked: What has it really brought to go for 48 hours on flights with 18 hours stop over to attend a conference with more than 20.000 people I don’t know and which comes together for 5 days from all over the world.

First of all: I guess, I will take the shorter flight – only looking to save some hundred bugs does not do the trick and flying from the USA via Europe forwards and backwards is a pain in the neck. On the other hand it had the chance to get used to the new environment.. well.. somehow… 🙂
And even being with such a crowd together: I met people I know, even Prof Cotton from the own HOPE Cape Town Association board was queuing with me on the first day to get into the lecture hall passing the tight security. So it was not that lonely. But despite Washington not being very much involved into the conference, the conference remains a beacon of inspiration. I met so many people from so many angle of lives: I spoke to Thai transvestite and escorts, Russian gay activists fearing for the future of an open society, women from Asia, Africa, South America, HIV positive themselves or affected by the pandemic and all that spirit of keeping the fight going, battling against the odds, not giving up against politicians who don’t want to listen, societies, so traditional that one can’t even mention sexual words in public – it was inspiring. Talking to sex workers about their work experience, drug users who escaped somehow the tight visa control of the USA and made it to the conference, priests who are also doctors in the fields of HIV and AIDS – so many faces are still alive in my mind and in my heart and in my soul.

So, yes, even after some time it remains good to have been in Washington, also for my own well-being as an activist, as a priest realising again in all those encounters how important it is to fight on. To keep the fire burning, also in the very own church. Once again I was reminded what great organisation the Catholic church is when it comes to care, but also how disastrous the moral theology can be at times, putting lives in danger to say the least. The church as the community of saints and sinners were very close to me in Washington – and I could associate with both parts of it. 🙂

I will have meetings now in September with some of the folks I met in Washington and then I will see what in practical terms will come out of the conference for HOPE Cape Town Association and Trust – besides all the new material I could collect and bring with to South Africa. And I am confident that at the end the travel was beneficial to all concerned – as a Rotary saying says.

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, HOPE Cape Town Trust, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sometimes it hurts… Another day @ the conference

Today, the second day of the conference, is my focal point more on HIV and faith-based organizations. So the day starts early with an interview for the Catholic “domradio” in Cologne. Next to networking with people of this field I also read some comments about the conference and one got my attention immediately. It is written by Dr P. B. and published not only on his blog but also on the internet news of kath.net, a more right-wing Catholic news website in the German language.
The headline “what really helps against new infections” got as said my attention and already the first sentence of the article gave the answer: “With the simple approach to live chaste till marriage and then be faithful to the partner within marriage 99% of all risk factors are eliminated”.
Wow, I thought really impressive. And I guess with a similar strategy can we can empty our prisons as everybody has to remain honest and non-violent instead of stealing or murdering someone and the problem is 99% solved. The logic of the article culminates in the argument, that people become infected because they don’t listen to the pope – and mentions Africa and specially Catholic areas on the continent where such prevention work has great success.

Such argumentation makes me speechless, but I was comforted through a podium in the afternoon where a pastor from Malawi told us about his experience in seeing HIV and AIDS as a challenge to come out of our comfort zones church normally provides and to give answers needed ending stigma and discrimination. He also was very critical of certain forms of development aid European or US style: “Africans can think of their own” , so the pastor and the audience underlined it with laughter and applause. An US American pastors wife told us from her experience working in Rwanda and a Thai monk about the great work, he is doing on the level of interfaith. He and his fellow clergyman, monks and imams are also looking for those caring for people living with HIV and AIDS. A humbling experience just to listen how those people gave witness about their calling to get involved in the battle against the pandemic.

This is what we need in our churches, mosques, synagogues and temples: people who believe honestly that HIV and AIDS is a challenge, not only for a personal life, but for the way we believe, we pray, we worship, we see our brothers and sisters. Yes, we need those people in our churches, mosques, synagogues and temples who are not afraid to open up, network beyond the borders of faith and denomination or religion. We need people who are simply not afraid to listen to their calling which overcomes human boundaries and is driven by the unconditional love towards their fellow neighbors.

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, Networking, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In between: holidays

The reader might wonder why the blog was so quiet the last days. Well, everybody deserves some holidays, so also the writer of this blog. 8 days in Thailand, one of my favorite holiday destinations.  But in the last 10 years the country is changing and it looks that stability is not one of the characteristics of Thailand in the next years to come.

In the last years, the battle between the “red-shirts” and the “yellow-shirts” rages on – some years ago the red shirts brought down the government with demonstrations and the occupation of the airport. Like thousands of holiday makers, I also had to prolong my stay for another 4 weeks till I got out of the country. Then Bangkok saw the siege of the red-shirts, blocking for months the financial and business hub of Bangkok – until the military and police brought the drama to an end –  bloodshed included.

Now the sister of convicted criminal and ex-premier Thaksin Shinowatra, who was ousted by a military coup and fled the country, is the new premier of Thailand. And one can see how fast the new lady and her friends in power move to get her brother back into the country and overturning the conviction. A royal pardon should do the trick and it is argued, that a pardon can be given even if somebody never saw one day in prison but fled the scene.

Inflation is a matter of fact and life is now more expensive in Thailand. The unstable political situation, the worries about the to age coming most revert king of Thailand, the unclear stance of the military adds up and one does not need to be a prophet to know that this situation will boil over again.

Thailand, the land of the smile is continuing to live on the brink of another bloody event – and like in so many other instances it is the political elite which does not care for the country but for themselves.

Self made millionaires turning politicians and running the country as their company with benefits (like Thaksin or Berlusconi)  – I guess those are as deadly for the running and the future of a democracy like politicians who never have learned to work in a proper job or see politics as a field of a life-long career than service to the population of a country.

Trouble in politics, unrest, bad governance always has also an impact on those who are depending of state services. In most countries the health services are state services – which brings the topic of HIV and AIDS right in the spotlight.

In Thailand during the siege of the red-shirts in Bangkok, a hospital was stormed and had to be evacuated. the use of weapons and explosive devices caused that some hospitals were stretched to the limits. Which also always impact on the usual services. Whatever happens in a country impacts on the most dependent ones.

Filed under: General, Uncategorized, ,

14th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenNovember 16th, 2019
88 days to go.

Ball of HOPE 2020

Join us @ The Westin in Cape TownMay 23rd, 2020
9 months to go.
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