She received standing ovations from the audience for her words of welcome at the opening ceremony of the European Forum conference in Berlin: Franciscan sister Hannelore Huesmann, working in the hospice "Tauwerk" for HIV-positive people.
First permit me a remark: the program announces me as a representative of the Roman Catholic Church in Berlin. As a matter of fact I have not been sent by the archdiocese of Berlin. But I do see myself as a member of the Catholic Church of Berlin, and I am happy about the invitation to this convention.
As a Franciscan sister I have been living in this city for 18 years. Together with other sisters, with our Franciscan friars and other supporters I founded an ambulant hospice team who accompany people living with AIDS.
Over the years I have met a large number of gay men; and I have repeatedly experienced the tensions arising from the clash between certain attitudes of the catholic church and the sexual orientation of Christian people.
“I’m suffering from AIDS, and here comes a catholic nun – what a pain in the neck!” or “The church – in most cases the catholic church – does not want me anyway.” – I have heard such sentences many times, and I can only guess what experience speaks through such utterances.
I have no intention of enumerating what the Pope or other church dignitaries have or have not said. Anyone can read up on that. Here and now I would like to make three points.
1. Narrow focus
When in my work it comes to the issue of homosexuality and church, I am often under the impression that people feel reduced to their gay sexuality. Or in other words: it is not the complex personality with all its gifts and talents, with its liveliness and zest for life, which is in the center of attention. The focus seems to be solely on the person’s sexuality; and the person is judged accordingly.
I do think, however, that such a narrow focus cannot do justice to human nature, since sexuality must be seen as a fountain of life and energy. Sexuality is an element of human nature, should be seen and developed positively and in reciprocal responsibility. Thus sexuality can give creative impulses to life; otherwise it is locked up in the dungeons of our lives. This is meant for each one in the world.
This means, however, that I can only appreciate and say yes to people if I am ready and willing to appreciate and say yes to their sexuality.
2. Brothers and sisters
It is quite often that I meet people who approach me, the catholic nun, with a feeling of apprehension. When we get to talk together, they tell me that they as gay men and lesbian women feel unwanted by the church. In such talks I hear such phrases as the gays, the lesbians, the nuns, the church; and I ask myself: is that right?
What I have been observing is a wide scope of attitudes and behavior in that groups. And I also find that generalizations never do justice to anyone. On the contrary, they stir up serious reservations about one another on all sides.
I think we all share the wish to be acknowledged for what we are; and we all share the wish to be treated with respect and appreciation. Words and remarks expressing sweeping statements and prejudice have the effect of violent blows that hit and hurt especially those who have a heart-felt longing for togetherness in the community of Christian believers.
I must admit that I have never felt myself that much as part of the church as in all these years in Berlin since I have repeatedly felt the need to reconsider my own attitudes.
Being part of the church means to me feeling a great joy of being bound by a worldwide faith in the same God. At the same time it means to me suffering just as badly from attitudes that seem to exclude people from this community.
As Christians, which means you and me and everybody else, we should always be aware that we are all members of the same body and children of the same heavenly father. I do wish that whenever we get to meet and talk with one another we will all recognize each other as brothers and sisters in faith.
In this sense I ask you to address you as: My dear brothers and sisters!
3. Hope and faith
If my words are not to be taken for just nice words, the question arises what Christian faith is all about. Saint Francis of Assisi, whose spiritual tradition I am trying to pursue, had an essential mission: to give life to the message of the gospel. And the gospel tells us “You are the salt of the earth.” (Mt 5,13). If we take this seriously, we have to commit ourselves. We have to partake in the affairs that happen around us. And we should not pull out, not keep out of things.
“You are the salt of the earth.” - partake in the affairs around you; spice life up so that it becomes more tasty. Without you life will have a bland taste. But make sure you won’t use too much salt.
Commit yourselves also and especially where our church is ailing. Otherwise the boils will turn into pus-filled ulcers. But do not overdo your efforts; discuss, call a problem a problem and a scandal a scandal, but do it in respect or the healing process will not get ahead.
In other words: In the places where you live make full use of the given opportunities. Create new opportunities for getting together and for dialog.
Just yesterday I got an email with a letter of a catholic priest. Looking forward to the visit of the Pope in September he says: The subjects are present – on the road the Pope will stay during his time here in Berlin: for example the issue of the divorced remarried people, the issue of the gay people, the issue of economics and last not least the issue of the oecumenical dialog.
Christians do not content themselves with the given circumstances. They allow themselves to be guided into the future by hope and faith.
I would like to encourage you to do thus. Therefore I wish you God’s blessing.