God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

21.08.2009 Judging people…

With the elevation of the Pius brotherhood through Benedikt XVI into the public eye we all can see and sense a new dawn of those, who are living in the past of the RC church and have refused to develop their faith. This in itself isn’t worrying. If people feel fine with the good old days and they want to keep them until they die – why not, if they apply it only to themselves. The danger is that with all the discussion now in the public forum, the old pictures from judgement, from evil, hell and condemnation, from a God acting like a policeman or a bookkeeper emerge again and that is the scary part. Reading about a priest in Austria starting to scare First Communion kids with hell and eternal condemnation – such teaching is surely encouraged through all the debate about the Pius brotherhood.

To spell it out again and again – and you can ask my community in Cape Town, they know it meanwhile and dream of it and can memorize it: God is love – unconditional love – and nothing ever can make us say that somebody has fallen out of the grace and mercy of God. Nobody! All those nevertheless doing it, denying that God is so much greater than all our thinking and understanding.

And this non judgemental unconditional love applies especially when it comes to such tricky topics like HIV and AIDS. There are no innocent babies and no not so innocent adults. There are only brothers and sisters with a certain condition. Point. No “Moralin”, no “Gardinenpredigt” – just acknowledgement, embracing of the condition and then the question, how to deal with it in a way beneficial to the person and his or her environment. Changing the stigma to a tool of compassion and mercy, self-knowledge and maturity.

I guess, if there is anything people living with the virus need besides good treatment and good friends it is people fighting like hell the stigma in our societies, fighting the travel bans, the discrimination, the human rights violations and fighting those who point fingers. And I have learned in my life: The more hostile people point fingers, the more they have to hide…

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, Reflection, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

03.08.2009 the churches approach…and my attitude towards the debate

A lot is written and said about the approach of the RC church regarding HIV and AIDS, lots of praise and lots of criticism, depending where one is standing and how one experience the own situation and convictions. I am aware of all those discussions and obviously take part in it, often not making friends with my fellow brothers in Christ. But I guess however we debate the stance of the RC church, we should all taken seriously that all working in our church mean to foster life, provide guidance for living a life to the fullest. What I mean in saying so is, that we have to have a deep respect for each other when debating the right way forward. Nobody of us is owning the truth and even if we completely disagree about the others argument and position, we always should give the person the benefit of the doubt that he or she means to support life and to help people living it in a satisfying and dignified way.
I have sometimes the impression, that within our church, we have to learn this kind of respect before each other.

Only if we have this respect we are able to listen to each other, to learn from each other and to be challenged by each other. And specially the latter we all need – to be challenged, because only then we are able to sharpen our arguments and to get a clearer picture about our conviction.

For me, the toughest and sometimes even unfair challenges, which put me in corners I never have been in reality and I never wanted to be; these challenges and accusations have been helpful to look again and again how I can clarify my point of view and to knock away the weakness of my argumentation. For that I am indeed grateful.

Whether it is this blog or my work or all my personal encounters with people during the days and weeks – I want to keep that kind of respect, I want to assume that the other person also wants the best for human mankind and the fellow brother and sister. I admit: at times, it is awfully difficult to keep that respect, but it is necessary for dialog and a common way forward. And that is what at the end counts, that people find common grounds and move forward, maybe slower than I would wish for, but we are moving…

Lets debate, find common grounds and move forward in a way benefiting those we care for, we love and cherish and for our own sake and God’s unconditional love to everybody…

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, Reflection, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

02.08.2009 Living with HIV

I have added on the blogroll “living with hiv – as it happens”. I find this blog a very important one as it shows without attitude or drama how life develops after a positive test result. The blog is anonymous and this shows again, how difficult it is to get it out. Here in South Africa, the Treatment Action Campaign advocates the “coming out” of HIV positive people and sometimes I have the impression, that is is almost done in a militant and pushy way. I don’t agree with it at all. Living with the virus is as intimate as faith – and it needs time and trust to open up and to talk about things which are so close to myself. Everybody has the right to be silent and to decide himself or herself, to whom to reveal the news.

People can react sometimes quite funny – for me as a counsellor it is important to advice a newly diagnosed person to look out for one person, with whom he can share the news and with whom he can discuss his joys and sufferings, his grievance and anxiety related to the virus occupying parts of his or her body. It is indeed a roller coaster to get used to the virus, to get used to treatment, and to be able to live a life to the fullest.

I feel often sad seeing how prejudice creates stigmatisation, discrimination – there is still a long way to go until we just accept a person living with the virus without even considering what could have gone wrong. It really does not matter in my opinion how and when somebody was infected – it is for me as a person, a Christian, a priest completely uninteresting – the only duty I have is to encourage somebody to live, to experience the unconditional love of God and to make the best out of his or her life.

Here in South Africa, we also have AIDS orphanages, and I always tend to flip out when I hear people saying, they want to see the innocent AIDS babies and clearly trying to distinguish between them and those, who have acquired the virus during adulthood. First of all there are no AIDS babies, but babies living with the virus. And secondly there is no innocence or guilt when dealing with a person living with the virus.  We should stop even using such words – and leave the morals at home somewhere in the corner where they don’t disturb our judgement and our commitment towards other people. Lets forget about judging people – and just embrace them as they are. This is the way, we also want to be dealt with … at least the way, I want to be dealt with…

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Reflection, , , , , , , , , , , ,

11.07.2009 The main task of priesthood…

What is actually the main task of a priest? Prayer? Celebrating the Eucharist? Managing a parish? Running some institutions like kindergarten etc.? Being a representative of the institution “church”?

I guess as one goes along in his life as a priest, some focus points are shifting again and again. When you are a young priest, then obviously you tend to fall into activism and you feel, that you can change the church and the world for a better place. If you grower older in your profession, you realise how little you can do to save the world. And depending on the parish you are in, you are either a sort of managing director for your parish or, having several parishes, you are more in church celebrating mass, funerals and other occasions then being really with the people.

For me, after 23 years in priesthood, the answer is becoming more and more simple: My main task as a priest is to tell people that they are unconditionally loved by God. That there is nothing, no failure, no mistake, no action, which can a person seperate from God.  And to be able to tell people, there is indeed one condition for us as priests: that we have to experience this unconditional love for ourselves.  I guess here is where the struggle for many priests starts – to accept themselves as they are and with all their weaknesses and to know and to experience, that God’s unconditional love shines day and night on them. We can only hand on, what we have received ourselves..

This unconditional love to each and everybody, this statement, that nobody can fall out of the hand of God is in my opinion one of the biggest gifts we as Christians can give to the world. This is indeed the most powerful message, we have to offer.  Because this at the end makes life so precious and in need of absolute protection.

The question of course is, why also within the church our behaviour does not reflect this unconditional love. How unmerciful are we often dealing with people, falling “out of line” in our parishes, in our dioceses, within the church? How often are we not witness of our gospel but demonstrating the opposite and equalizing us in doing so with the world and its laws.

Being for so many years chaplain to an immigration chaplaincy means also to encounter many people, who have left the church out of such experience – and now, in a foreign country, suddenly get somehow in touch with me as a church representative again. It is sometimes painstaking to listen to their stories, to feel their anger, frustration and how they feel hurt in many ways.  I am sure in most instances, the priest, bishop or who ever it has been, had not intended to hurt or to be harsh, but time restrains, own frustration, the need of staying within the laws of the church and many other reasons  can be put on the table to somehow justify it. If it is justifiable in any way…

Taking the time for the person approaching us and seeing always the background of God’s love might prevent a lot of harm…

Filed under: Reflection, , , , , , , , , , ,

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