God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

“The Nex” Theology

The Nex - Blessings ceremony
Blessing Ceremony

People of faith think in religious terms, their whole life makes sense in the light of a belief system giving meaning to what they do and how they see life in general. It does not mean to prescribe this to all involved, but it serves as an explanation for motivation, reflected on a deeper personal level. This is a first draft, a first attempt to reflect on the theological meaning of building a campus in Delft / South Africa.

Theological Consideration – first thoughts…

Normally Catholic priests in South Africa are bound to parish life, leading under the authority of a Bishop the faithful of a prescribed territorial area in prayer, worship and charity for those in need.

Running a foundation during the week and only attending to the spiritual needs on a weekend as a supply priest before retirement is already different and for some not fitting the picture of a priest. Building a campus in a gang and crime ridden area is then certainly not their first priestly task and would be seen as extra-ordinary, rather flamboyant in church terms.

And still, I believe there is merit to look with a theological and pastoral eye exactly on this campus comprising of buildings serving in the following areas: Health, Early Childhood Development, Social Services, Youth, Entrepreneurial Skills Development and Vocational Training. Not to forget community uplifting, understanding of democracy and the value of human life and human dignity.

Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good!
Genesis 1:31

Having worked in the Delft area since more than a decade Delft mirrors all the shortcomings of the new South Africa, it showcases the lost hopes, the cut-short aspirations, the undervalue of life as such, latent racism and not a lot of those living there would on a daily basis and in their daily life agree, that all is “very good”. Churches of different kinds are spread all over Delft and often for some hours they beam those attending gatherings into a different sphere trying to instil hope for the days to come.

Sermons can be a good tool to inspire but I feel that theology and bible are more than source for fiery sermons, theology – the word of God – must trickle down much more than just in words and charity, it must be felt and walked the talk by development and action on the ground. The word of God must be felt in the trenches of daily life experience for those left out here in South Africa after more than 30 years living in the promised land called the New South Africa.

Theology can also not only be confined in the framework of parishes, formation seminars, theological faculties and church structures – it must cover that “God looked over all he had made” – so there should be room for more than church structures allowing the word “catholic” – meaning covering the whole – universal to be put into action.

Theology must also be able to be applied to what we do and how we act – it should be able to make sense and to bring a greater meaning to our action – it is part of a circle of action – interpretation – encouragement and out of this more, different but definitely better or more appropriate action again before the circle starts anew. At the same time there is no need for religion to capture what is done. There will be different motivations, different ethos and different religious affiliation and convictions of those working together on a project like “The Nex”.  There will be different ways to describe God or the reason for creation, there will be different theologies – and if such a project fosters more dialogue amongst those different pictures without becoming a competition there is another ecumenical and inter-religious meaning in what we do. “The Nex” becomes a place where unspoken different religions encounter each other in a practical way for the better good of people. The blessings ceremony for The Nex – Indawo Yethu  gave witness to intention and prayers when a Catholic priest, a Rabbi, an Imam and a Sangoma not only spoke but brought the blessings onto the new venture.

In the Catholic Church we talk about the “option for the poor” – and again here we are: How easy is it, to establish oneself as an NGO in one of the safe areas instead of going there, where it hurts, where things will on a long run not only run smoothly but hurtles will be encountered, failures will happen and the hardship of life will be mirrored and shared within this project as people experience it themselves every day. Walking together and staying together even if it hurts at times is taking the words “all is very good” almost on a prophetic level: we are not in the promised land, but we have made ourselves ready to walk towards it; together and equipped with hope, love and faith, that we can reach our destiny.

“Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God?.”
 1 Corinthians 6:19

Spiritually is often connected to meditation and prayer, sometimes fasting exercises which indicate that concentrating on the body is an important part of such exercises. Mindfulness towards body and spirit.
I strongly believe that to a holistic spiritual wellbeing health and attention to the body is non-negotiable. The Nex – Indawo Yethu acknowledges this with the offering of health services, linked to social services and the programme of the “First 1000 days” specifically looking at the wellbeing of a human being in the decisive foundation phase of life.

Health, Wellness – mental health and an environment to thrive is so important especially for children and adolescents. Not forgetting those kids with special needs whose wellbeing will be catered for specifically in the Early Childhood Development Centre of the Campus.

Safety is another aspect of bodily wellbeing. The Nex – Indawo Yethu is situated in an area which is marked currently by violence and gangsterism as well as drug-related problems. It is certainly not a safe area, and it was interesting to see and hear, that in the first community participation meeting we had, the question of safety was raised several times: “Are our kids, our youngsters safe on your campus?” Obviously, this is a challenge and if you want the ugly side of business to admit, that security measures have to play a vital role in planning and executing this project. But ones again: the hope that The Nex – Indawo Yethu can be a turning point in moving into a more peaceful future translates a building into a prophetic sign that change is possible and change in this regard is on the way.

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, Religion and Ethics, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Toward a Cure: Virologic Control Documented in 14 Acute HIV Treaters

An interesting article not to be missed:

A new study released Thursday, July 26, at the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) in Washington, DC, found that 14 people living with HIV have achieved long-term non-progressing “viral controller” status after being treated with antiretrovirals (ARVs) during the acute phase of their infections. The fact that these individuals have shown no signs of viral load rebounds following termination of their prescribed treatment regimens may ultimately provide guidance to scientists pursuing “functional” HIV cure.

Read more in the orginal article of the POZ magazine: http://www.poz.com/rssredir/articles/hiv_contoller_cure_761_22772.shtml

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, Reflection, Society and living environment, , , , , , , ,

pastoral care not possible!?

Having spoken and listening to lots of people during the conference who are dealing with pastoral care for those marginalized in our society there is still a question which is haunting me quite for some time:
How can we minister to such groups like those who are gay, or are HIV positive (and not married) or transgender, or drug-addicts when the moral judgement of the faithful rather scares them away then making them feel embraced and loved?
I ask this question specially on the back ground of HIV being most prevalent in men who have sex with men.

Some would say, if they don’t have sex with each other, they wouldn’t infect themselves. Right, that is exactly the kind of answer I am making the case for…

Yes, I  know, we love the sinner and hate the sin, but that is just “a say” – how can we say we love gay people but we reject their feelings and their happiness when it comes to practical terms, when we forbid them to live out their love.
And is the AIDS pandemic consequently not just a very welcomed way to enforce such a moral judgement and infringement of basic human rights and adding  to the stigma and consequently discrimination of those “unfortunately not by God made so perfect” people?

Or how comes that in many countries, where homosexuality is a crime with severe punishment the church is rather on the side of the oppressors than of those fallen victim to such practice? And supports with it a lesser chance that the gay person receives adequate treatment and care.

Take Uganda – where the debate about AIDS and GAY and DEATH PENALTY is not quiet and still in political debate and where the church “for the protection of family and marriage values” rather condones the state orders killings (called execution) instead standing in for the dignity and human rights of every son and daughter of God in this world. Where is the sanctity of life in this case?
When we don’t uphold the sanctity of life in all aspects, we have a big problem being taken serious. There is no gamble or choosing when to advocate the holiness of life.

There is no half a dignity, there is no limited human right, there is also no mistake in the creation of mankind – God saw that it was good and if he sees it, why we are blind at times? He gave us eyes to admire his creation as well…

Pondering these thoughts I do understand why HIV/AIDS is a calling to put our thinking, our comfort zones, our theology, our way we discover God to the test – it is a like a deep calling to engage with all these minority groups who are the hardest hit by the pandemic. By engaging with them, by bringing the unconditional love to them I am sure we suddenly discover a different face  of God, another glitter in his eyes watching lovingly over each and everybody.

HIV and AIDS is not only a medical problem; it can only be overcome when we end stigma and discrimination, when we end our “Sunday sermons” and change those silent disapproval which so easily can get out of hand.

And yes, I know that we care about all these people in need in a practical sense, and we are great in it. Without the churches involvement the plight of so many marginalized people would be even more big – but we can do better in lovingly accepting that God’s creation is much bigger as what we think and  give to us as margins for our life. Only then can we be advocates for life; only then can we be truly advocates for the living God and his unconditional love. We just pass on what we have received.

Coming back to the beginning of this blog part:

We can only work pastoral with people who feel that we take them as they are, we can only work spiritual with people who feel embraced with all their life structures, with all the things making them the person they are. People who are afraid of the church, who are afraid of the “intrinsic evil” they are committing according to our teaching, are lost for our pastoral care, are practically excluded even if we try to cover up with the “evil” with smart words that we don’t mean it that way.

HIV and AIDS confronts us as Christians, as the church with our own shortcomings, prejudice and perceptions… it is up to us to let this confrontation happen in the best sense of the word to discover what we still lacking in meeting the mercy and unconditional love of God we are called to – now and here.

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

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