God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

New York, New York

English: Broadway show billboards at the corne...

English: Broadway show billboards at the corner of 7th Avenue and West 47th Street in Times Square in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those who had the pleasure of visiting New York say, that the city never sleeps and that New York is not America – somehow like Cape Town is not South Africa.
Being in town and trying to find my way through town – and obviously getting lost between upper Manhattan and some of my destinations – there is always plenty of time to observe people. Amazing how individualistic people are – how mixed – how crazy – how ordinary – how business like – and all in the same metro not even taking notice of each other. How different from Germany or even South Africa, where you can see people glancing at unusual behavior or dressing.
Sitting at a fast food chain near Times Square I observed a family holding hands and praying before starting eating – in full view of others and without any hesitation.
Race seems to be no issue – and how much would I like to see that also in South Africa – as well as the mass transport system of New York, which seems to be orderly chaotic, but at most times functional. Except when there is disruption and you are advised to use other methods of transport, then the poor visitor is lost in transition. 😦

On Monday I will have several meetings, among others with the Fordham University, which is a Catholic institution and a marketing company. I am thrilled to see whether HOPE Cape Town is able to capture the imagination of US Americans in a way which leads to support and partnership. Maybe New York is a good start with its diversity and embrace of a variety of cultures and traditions. To live in such an environment hopefully means to have an open heart and an open mind. Well, lets see what the next days will bring towards more support for HOPE Cape Town. It would be a welcomed addition to all the support and assistance the organization already gets from Europe and South Africa. HOPE Cape Town can only be as strong as the network of supporter and donor is. So cross the fingers that this city which never sleeps has a heart which never stops supporting those in need, even if they live far away in another part of the global village called earth.

Filed under: General, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, HOPE Cape Town Trust, Networking, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

New National Health Insurance Plan

English: President Barack Obama's signature on...

President Barack Obama’s signature on the health insurance reform bill at the White House, March 23, 2010.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While South Africa is considering and planing for a new Health care insurance system  which would give its citizens more possibilities to use health care in a dignified and fair way, the same has already happened in the USA. After long battles a new health care  policy is in place and more US Americans are able to get access to health care facilities and the right treatment independent of their financial background.

It is interesting to see, that despite several changes in the act, the US American Catholic Bishops Conference is still fighting the plan, as it includes family planing. To recap: In January 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services issued its mandate as part of the health care reform law that contraceptive care, such as prescriptions for birth control pills, must be fully covered as part of any insurance plan. Some religious organizations are exempt from this rule, but a number of Catholic groups say those exemptions are not enough. While the bishops have continued to oppose the mandate, other Catholic groups, such as the Catholic Health Association, have said the administration has addressed their concerns in the revisions. According to the last version of the federal mandate, which the administration released June 28, any organization that self-certifies as a nonprofit religious group with religious objections to contraceptive coverage can defer coverage of contraceptives to a separate health insurance issuer. The administration “has now established an accommodation that will allow our ministries to continue offering health insurance plans for their employees as they have always done,” the Catholic Health Association’s president,  Sr. Carol Keehan, said after the release of the last version of the mandate. The organization, which describes itself as the largest group of nonprofit health care providers in the nation, comprises more than 600 hospitals and 1,400 long-term care and other health facilities in the USA.
Well, the bishops see it differently:

The Bishop heading the commission dealing with the national health care act, Cardinal Dolan even goes so far that the bishops are concerned that the mandate does not cover for-profit businesses run by individuals who may oppose certain contraceptive services. In essence what he is saying is: If I have a company with hundreds of employees and I have certain religious conviction, then I am entitled to enforce them for all working in my company, even if they don’t share this convictions and they are irrelevant to the work they are doing. It would in practice mean that a Witness of Jehovah Shop owner can exclude blood transfusion for his employees.  It is interesting to see whether such an argument will hold for the future of the bill, and especially on a topic which is since the introduction of Humanae vitae never fully adopted by practicing Catholics and even questioned in its rigidity by Bishops around the world. During the debate phrases like “protecting the freedom of religion” were used and the treat of the end of religious liberty put onto the map.

It has to be seen what the debate in South Africa holds in store when it comes to the point, what services should be included in a new Health Insurance Policy, there are surely interesting times ahead also for us here in South Africa. But it is to hope that at the end, the fundamental right of every citizen to health care according to each and every-bodies conscience prevails. Informed decisions like it has been long introduced in the sector of HIV and AIDS and TB and cancer therapies. The church has a right to enter into such a debate but must also acknowledge that its belief cannot be binding to all citizens regardless of their faith. This trickles down from the nation to single companies where the freedom to choose health care services must be balanced against the conscience of the company owner. We as the church can advocate what we belief is right, but never force democratic nations or people to follow.

Filed under: Catholic Church, General, Medical and Research, Politics and Society, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Syria is on everybodies mind

English: View of the main (and oldest) buildin...

English: View of the main (and oldest) building of Deir Mar Musa al-Habashi or Monastery of Saint Moses the Abyssinian, Syria Français : Vue du bâtiment principal (et le plus ancien) du monastère de Mar Mousa, Syrie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nobody listening to the news can avoid being drawn into thoughts about Syria and the pending attack of US forces. History repeats itself – even if on a lighter scale as with Iraq. I am completely opposed to violence when it ignites more hate, more violence  and only serves the ego of US presidents or there-likes. “God’s own nation” is, like “God’s chosen people” again at the center of inflicting more pain to ordinary people instead of healing wounds. I am not naive and I don’t think that “always being nice and letting go” is the answer to all the injustice of this world. But if I can’t see any purpose for the good of the people, there can only be opposition.  I have been to Syria many times and always enjoyed the hospitality of these great people – they deserve better than what the world has to offer them in the moment. We humans have only the UN as an overwriting body – and yes, it is weak and full of failures, but this is the best we have in the moment and instead of ignoring it, we should better it. And for President Obama once again: Give back your Peace Nobel Price – you don’t deserve it.

Here the sermon of Pope Francis from yesterday,which says it all.

“’And God saw that it was good’. The biblical account of the beginning of the history of the world and of humanity speaks to us of a God who looks at creation, in a sense contemplating it, and declares: ‘it is good’. This, dear brothers and sisters, allows us to enter into God’s heart and, precisely from within him, to receive his message. We can ask ourselves: what does this message mean? What does it say to me, to you, to all of us?

“It says to us simply that this, our world, in the heart and mind of God, is the ‘house of harmony and peace’, and that it is the space in which everyone is able to find their proper place and feel ‘at home’, because it is ‘good’. All of creation forms a harmonious and good unity, but above all humanity, made in the image and likeness of God, is one family, in which relationships are marked by a true fraternity not only in words: the other person is a brother or sister to love, and our relationship with God, who is love, fidelity and goodness, mirrors every human relationship and brings harmony to the whole of creation. God’s world is a world where everyone feels responsible for the other, for the good of the other. This evening, in reflection, fasting and prayer, each of us deep down should ask ourselves: Is this really the world that I desire? Is this really the world that we all carry in our hearts? Is the world that we want really a world of harmony and peace, in ourselves, in our relations with others, in families, in cities, in and between nations? And does not true freedom mean choosing ways in this world that lead to the good of all and are guided by love?

“But then we wonder: Is this the world in which we are living? Creation retains its beauty which fills us with awe and it remains a good work. But there is also ‘violence, division, disagreement, war’. This occurs when man, the summit of creation, stops contemplating beauty and goodness, and withdraws into his own selfishness.

“When man thinks only of himself, of his own interests and places himself in the centre, when he permits himself to be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when he puts himself in God’s place, then all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the door opens to violence, indifference, and conflict. This is precisely what the passage in the Book of Genesis seeks to teach us in the story of the Fall: man enters into conflict with himself, he realizes that he is naked and he hides himself because he is afraid, he is afraid of God’s glance; he accuses the woman, she who is flesh of his flesh; he breaks harmony with creation, he begins to raise his hand against his brother to kill him. Can we say that from harmony he passes to ‘disharmony’? Can we say this: that from harmony he passes to ‘disharmony’? No, there is no such thing as ‘disharmony’; there is either harmony or we fall into chaos, where there is violence, argument, conflict, fear.

“It is exactly in this chaos that God asks man’s conscience: “Where is Abel your brother?” and Cain responds: ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’. We too are asked this question, it would be good for us to ask ourselves as well: Am I really my brother’s keeper? Yes, you are your brother’s keeper! To be human means to care for one another! But when harmony is broken, a metamorphosis occurs: the brother who is to be cared for and loved becomes an adversary to fight, to kill. What violence occurs at that moment, how many conflicts, how many wars have marked our history! We need only look at the suffering of so many brothers and sisters. This is not a question of coincidence, but the truth: we bring about the rebirth of Cain in every act of violence and in every war. All of us! And even today we continue this history of conflict between brothers, even today we raise our hands against our brother. Even today, we let ourselves be guided by idols, by selfishness, by our own interests, and this attitude persists. We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain, death! Violence and war lead only to death, they speak of death! Violence and war are the language of death!

“After the chaos of the Flood, when it stopped raining, a rainbow appeared and the dove returned with an olive branch. I think also of the olive tree which representatives of various religions planted in Plaza de Mayo, in Buenos Aires, in 2000, asking that there be no more chaos, asking that there be no more war, asking for peace.

“And at this point I ask myself: Is it possible to walk the path of pace? Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace? Invoking the help of God, under the maternal gaze of the Salus Populi Romani, Queen of Peace, I say: Yes, it is possible for everyone! From every corner of the world tonight, I would like to hear us cry out: Yes, it is possible for everyone! Or even better, I would like for each one of us, from the least to the greatest, including those called to govern nations, to respond: Yes, we want it! My Christian faith urges me to look to the Cross. How I wish that all men and women of good will would look to the Cross if only for a moment! There, we can see God’s reply: violence is not answered with violence, death is not answered with the language of death. In the silence of the Cross, the uproar of weapons ceases and the language of reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue, and peace is spoken. This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace! Let everyone be moved to look into the depths of his or her conscience and listen to that word which says: Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others, conquer your deadly reasoning, and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation. Look upon your brother’s sorrow – I think of the children, look upon these – look upon your brother’s  sorrow, and do not add to it, stay your hand, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this not by conflict but by encounter! May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: ‘No more one against the other, no more, never! … war never again, never again war!’. ‘Peace expresses itself only in peace, a peace which is not separate from the demands of justice but which is fostered by personal sacrifice, clemency, mercy and love’. Forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation – these are the words of peace, in beloved Syria, in the Middle East, in all the world! Let us pray for
reconciliation and peace, let us work for reconciliation and peace, and let us all become, in every place, men and women of reconciliation and peace! Amen”.

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

DOMA ruling and the Catholic Church

Much is written and spoken about the ruling of the US American Supreme Court from this week regarding the question of “Defense of Marriage Act” and a question related to a vote in California. With amazement I have seen the reactions as expected by people and supporters for or against the so-called “gay marriage”.  As somebody who does not like the phrase “gay marriage’ as it confuses terminology for most people, I was tempted to write an article why I think the church has lost its battle against equality on the state’s terrain defining marriage and it’s benefits. And why the church should stop fighting an already  lost war but concentrate on its portfolio and support functional families as much as she can. Then I came across the National Catholic Reporter and an OP of Michael Sean Winters named “Marriage, the church and the Supreme Court”.

It is a very honest analysis of the situation and consequences of the ruling and starts like this:

“The Supreme Court’s twin decisions in the battle over same-sex marriage on Wednesday were momentous, to be sure. But Wednesday was not “tragic,” as the statement from the USCCB stated. Nor were the court’s decisions victories in what Harvey Milk’s nephew unfortunately termed the “defining civil right issue of our time,” a claim that was downright offensive coming within 24 hours of the Supreme Court’s far more objectionable decision to gut the Voting Rights Act. Turns out, old-style civil rights remains the defining civil rights issue of our time. In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, “The state’s power in defining marriage is of central relevance to this case.” Indeed. And there is the rub for me. I do not understand why some people, including some bishops, are all worked up about same-sex marriage when the fact that the state, not the church, has the power to define civil marriage is well-established in American legal culture, and it was so long before anyone ever talked about gay marriage…”

For me the piece gives some insight in US American thinking, in US American Catholic thinking and it inspires to think deeper about the challenges behind the obvious battle of minds, one sees first. And so I do provide the link to the whole article and hope, that this inspires people new to think about the question, not along the usual “party lines” for or against it. There is nothing in this world only black or only white – but many shades of grey are involved. Let’s look at these and find ways not to go over board in fighting each other but finding common grounds like the happiness of people, like the love and commitment of people, the exclusivity of a relationship, which by the way when it comes to HIV and AIDS is of great importance for the containment of the virus.

Who is interested into church life in Germany has surely followed the publication of the Lutheran Church in our days also about marriage and it’s definition. As for a Luther the marriage is a non – sacramental issue, obviously the sister church in Germany comes to complete different assessments about values of this issue. The debate is on, and one has to find the common grounds but also the parts, where parties defining society differ in their approach to the topic of marriage.

The link: Marriage, the church and the Supreme Court – NCR

Enjoy reading!

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

Speaking up… that’s what we need in our work to combat the pandemic, and not to forget the blessings coming along with a fight like this one…

 

Speaking Up!

Dear HIV,

Today is 16 years I have learnt that I share my life with you. What a shock it was. At the time, it was difficult to imagine I would be alive today. Here we are in 2013 and it looks like we will have many more years together. It is pointless to think what would my life had been without you.I will never know.

I know that thanks to you I had to take a very good look at myself, and the world. I had to look straight in the eyes of death and illness. Thanks to you I stopped taking my life for granted. I had to ask difficult questions to myself. Recognise my fragilities, and my responsibilities. What was most painful: I had to question the possibility of love and intimacy. How difficult closeness becomes, when your body is a potential threat to your loved one…

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

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