God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensée of a Catholic priest

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

Synod on the family

As somebody being involved in the portfolio HIV and AIDS since a longer time obviously I am observing the synod on the family starting today with utmost interest. The last days have shown clear lines between those wanting to move on with the people of God and those wanting to remain with the ” old restrictive ways” which have alienated so many Catholics and those otherwise sympathetic to the core values of our faith.
For me interesting is the latter ones always stress that there can be no change in the substance of faith. It shows clearly that either they don’t understand that nobody wants to change the teaching of the church or they try to sabotage a pastoral way which puts into account the realities of our century plus the neglected unconditional love of God. Listening to Cardinal Mueller or Burke I feel the ice of an academically preached unconditional love of God – a frozen faith towards a God who seemingly is not walking with his people. Too long, we had this climate of ‘you shall not…” – a very negative theology which killed the faith of so many of those touched by the gospel of Jesus.

The kingdom of God starts here, but is never in full present here and now and so the church has to listen to the signs of the times, the church has to listen to the academic research about sexuality as sciences is another way of knowing God. The church should listen to the voices of those, who are like the old prophets have been persecuted because the elite of a religion was not able to repent and see the new dawn God is providing. And not to forget the old and ancient and proven traditions of Africa which for example put sexuality time-wise before marriage but in an orderly way after lobola is paid.

Maybe it is too much asked to overcome the part of Humanae Vitae which was the downfall of Catholic moral theology; never accepted by the sensus fidelium. But it might be not too much asked that those synod participants, guided by the Holy Spirit may acknowledge that next to the form of the traditional family, there are other forms of love, of commitment and that failure of human love never means failure of God’s love towards them. And that sacraments never can be used to punish people but that they are especially needed in the times of the trauma of a love being destroyed for so many reasons. Let’s look at our sister church: Her ancient tradition of oikonomia is surely the key for changing our pastoral approach.
And let’s also recognize: where there is love between two people there is definitely God present. LGBTI people deserve the same love and respect – there is nothing intrinsic evil at all. To recognize this does not mean to change the theology of the sacraments. Let’s avoid these broad brushes which do not justice to different situations. Looking at each and everybody with the loving eye of God will help and being open to God’s good spirit and his guidance will do the rest so that justice prevail.

I hope and pray that the Synod on the family this year and next year will have appropriate answers to the questions of our times and that there will be no winner or loser but all feel guided by the God’s good spirit embracing and including all those who struggle and fail. We remain a church of saints and sinners – and God’s unconditional love shines over all of them in the same way.

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

USA and the complexity of the world

11 days of traveling in the USA coming to an end.  Since 2 years HOPE Cape Town tries with the help of friends to establish itself as a fundraising NGO in the States. Finally this time things are coming together and it seems a way is found to start in earnest with our efforts to raise funds for the work in the Western Cape. Having an offical representative in New Jersey voted onto the advisory board of the HOPE Cape Town Trust helps a lot. The USA is not South Africa – laws and requirements are different and since 9/11 the trauma of the US nation dictates a lot of scrutiny channeling money from one of the 50 states to Africa or any other part of the world.

It is worth noting that the Catholic Church also plays a big role in this, assisting in setting up and bridging the time until the process is finalised and HOPE Cape Town Trust (USA) will be established in the first of the states. It was great to see how an entity like my church can be of help with its structures and abilities and so speeding up the process of helping others in need. There is still a long way to go but what are 2 or 3 years more compared to eternity :-).

In the time I have visited the killing of an 18-year-old black youngster through a white police officers were not only constant headlines but also led to unrest in St. Louis (Mo). The little suburb of Ferguson brought again onto the light the problem of race and justice. As somebody living in South Africa, where race is often still determining how a person sees himself, it was somehow eye-opening to understand that the question of injustice does not stop at a certain nation. It seems to me that the perceived inferiority of Afro-American or the perceived superiority of white people is a worldwide problem manifesting itself quite harshly in the “great nation on earth”. It is a clear expression and outcome of a cruel world order, especially when it comes to economic justice or the power balance in our world. And having visited the National Museum for Indian History in Washington, I have learned anew what I already have somehow know before: How much also my church has contributed to eliminate old ancient tradition and forced people to take over the white European lifestyle. While Christianity absorbed so much from the European (Greek and Roman) habits and tradition and converted its meanings, it failed to do the same often on American or African soil. This is indeed a problem we have until today and whoever is observing the reactions on Pope Francis from the neo-conservative side will pick up that his “latin-american” style is seen as a treat to European structured theology and hierarchy.

I am always thrilled to see and learn how inter-connected the world, it’s past, present and future, is and how important it is to learn from the past to understand the present time. It is indeed also the only way to prevent from injustice happening again even if it seems that humanity does not learn and has to go through all the trials and errors again and again.

What has survived through history is for most people the compassion and will to better the world – and that brings me back to the beginning and the fundraising efforts which would not be possible without this life line of hope. And it is indeed the only hope we have, that despite all the failures, of the systematic injustices there have been always people and there will be always people who care about their brothers and sisters near and far away.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Trust, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

HIV – curse or blessing?

For most people, on first side a pandemic is surely seen as a curse translating into sickness. In the case of HIV- without treatment – it turns into full-blown AIDS and consequently death. Who does not remember the eighties: a quick and cruel death for young people, killed in the prime of their lives.
HIV also means evolution: a small little bug jumps onto a different host and kills the host. Not intentionally of course and it will take a quite some time, maybe a couple of hundred years to develop into a symbiosis which lets bug and host live peacefully together. Otherwise it’s a dead-end for evolution and will at a certain point cease to exist.
HIV is a challenge: In the 1980’s the scientific world raced to find an answer what causes the syndrome. To isolate the bug, to find anti-bodies and consequently a test to determine infection and last but not least to develop first medications working to prevent full-blown AIDS took its time and toll. But HIV is also a challenge for every human being: transmission via bodily fluids means it touches on one of our strongest drive and urge: sexuality. And who controls this desire controls humans – just look into the history of religion and the significance of the control of sexuality via faith.
HIV mixes categories normally separated in society: youth and death. Death is anyhow so often hidden in modern society; now associated with youth and radical eradicating the beauty of it destroys the unspoken view how society works and develops. It changed the rules of engagement on that level dramatically and still does it in developing countries.
HIV means to open up to people living and loving in same sex relationships. Coming from the dark and hidden corners of social life gay people suddenly stood in the limelight of society. HIV and AIDS was part of a sometimes cruel outing process. In our days HIV is globally not anymore associated with homosexuality but the pandemic, almost as a side effect, opened up society to look at different life styles. And without any doubt the solidarity in gay circles in the beginning of the pandemic for their infected friends and partners was an impressive show of compassion and left traces which transformed into signs of normality and acceptance for gay love in the Western hemisphere. Obviously this triggers an antidote from the radical – fundamentalist side of society, mainly coming from the USA in an evangelical form even telling Africans what African culture means in Africa.
HIV is clearly a challenge for politicians and it was HIV which was put on the agenda as the first medical condition dealt with by the UN. This opened doors for other discussions on a global base like on Malaria or TB or all the other forgotten sickness of Africa and South America. We were reminded that they also kill millions a year and that they are in need of being addressed properly. The Global AIDS Fund was a first instrument of tackling a medical challenge on a global scale and not via bi-lateral negations which normally don’t’ see the full picture and are rather small –minded.
HIV means a challenge for society. While in Germany the campaign “Give AIDS no chance” with the commitment of the entire government prevented the pandemic to get into full swing, other countries and governments did not wake up to respond to the treat timely. The bible is right, that the sin of the fathers, in this case the sin of neglect comes onto the children and grandchildren. South Africa, but also Swaziland, is an example of failure with the result of hundred thousands of death and a generation born and plagued by HIV. What a challenge for the social coherence of society.
HIV translates into a challenge for religion, for our faith. Just a look at Ronald Reagan, who refused to act on the first reports of the new disease as it seemly “only” targeted gay people. His faith told him that they anyhow did not live according to God’s moral code; somehow no real action was needed. It reminds us also in this context of all those clerics calling the HIV pandemic the punishment of God for Sodom and Gomorrah in our times.
HIV is not a punishment but a clear sign of the time to reflect on our Christian theology – it has shown clearly that answering new questions with old answer do not serve humanity. The opposite is true: it endangers life. The question of protection cannot be answered with the reply given by authorities quite some time earlier on the question of procreation.
And how about the single human being infected with the HI Virus?
The challenges and reactions are as different as people are different: shock, disbelieve, despair, give–up mentality, defiance, hope….
What is indeed an almost general rule I discovered with people living positively is that after the balance in life is found again, there is a new sense for health and the value of life. HIV has shown how fragile life is and treatment has given almost the opportunity for a second chance in life. People infected mostly have a peace treaty with their boarder – always present even when tested undetectable. There is also the sense of gratitude and somehow, even if it sounds absurd, it changes from being a personal curse into a blessing. And I strongly believe that church should be and could be promoter of this transition, personal and in communities where stigma could be transformed into a blessing. The Catholic Student organisation of South Africa maintains in one of their publications that people living with HIV cannot live life to the fullest as stipulated in John 10.10.
They are wrong: God is giving everyone in his unconditional love the possibility to life their life to the fullest – for him, sexual identity or preference is not a hindrance nor is race or income or any other ability or disability or HIV or AIDS.
You will be a blessing for others – this promise of God applies to everybody who lives and loves with or without HIV.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

AIDS as disturbance of creation?

English: Freddie Mercury in New Haven, CT at a...

 Mercury in New Haven, CT at a WPLR Show. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Relaxing a bit after the Berlin Gala, I watch with interest a TV production about 40 years of the rock band “Queen”. Central to the story is obviously the life and death of Freddie Mercury – singer and song writer of the band.  The life of a genius musician cut short through the HI virus. And there is the sudden realization, how much HIV and AIDS has robbed human mankind of the development of art and culture. As St. Paul writes about creation still ongoing, there is surely to consider that HIV might have disturbed creation in cutting down the potential in human beings to become in a lifetime what they were supposed to be. Or is the HIV pandemic part of creation, part of it laying still in labor?
As God and creation are connected, it makes more sense to talk about the body of Christ having AIDS, being in pain and suffering. And even if in Europe HIV is not that much connected to suffering, death and dying any more – worldwide millions of lives are cut short by this virus. The suffering, the stigma, the discrimination continues despite all successes in treatment. And theological, there is still so much more to learn and develop and put into our teaching than we have done before. The climate within my church has changed – at least it is allowed again to think without fear – it would be great to use this time of spring to see, what else HIV and AIDS can tell our theology.

 

 

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, HIV and AIDS, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

12th HOPE Gala Dresden

HOPE Gala Dresden - the event to be in DresdenOctober 28th, 2017
35 days to go.

Ball of HOPE 2018

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

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© Rev Fr Stefan Hippler and HIV, AIDS and HOPE.
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