MUD AND MOSAICS

Chapter 3

GHANA


WE HAD COME to Wagadugu chiefly to see Father Goarnisson, the Doctor. It was our intention to go North-West through the Sudan to Dakar and then South, round the coast, making a number of calls, as far as Nigeria. We should thus see the South of Ghana, but not the famous Northern Territories, or, as they are now called, Northern Regions. However, when two White Fathers from the N.Rs. turned up at Wagadugu to buy stores, we visitors from Europe soon thumbed a lift South into the N. Rs. of Ghana. One of these kindly lift-givers was Father Buteau, who, when in England had been irreverently called Father Beauty (derived from his name - not from his looks!) and whose room in consequence became known to the Community as the 'Beauty Parlour'.

Before we left Wagadugu, something happened which I found hard to believe. Can a man forget his own wedding? Anyhow, a bride and her attendants came to the church to be married the morning of our departure. The priest and altar boys were there, and guests too. But there was no bridegroom! A search was made and he was found happily at his work. He did not at first understand what the excitement was about; when he did, he apologised. "Oh, sorry. I forgot," and rushed off to the church! Did he really forget his own wedding? It certainly looked like it for had he wished to dodge it he would surely have gone elsewhere for a time. We discussed the event with amusement as we disappeared in the dust of Wagadugu.

Presently we bounced and jolted in the lorry into the diocese of Kupela in the District of that name, and our first greeting came from the distant Angelus bells of Zorgho Mission. The Fathers, perhaps warned by the Bush telegraph, were waiting to greet us as we pulled up at the door of the church. It was a tiny place which had been a catechist's chapel for an outstation but was now the mission-church. A new one was going up fast. Father Dubois, the Superior, said: "I'm building although we're broke. It's a necessity so Providence must see to it."

The priest was measuring out his precious cement almost by the cupful. His father had been a member of the French Cabinet, but we did not talk politics: there was too much to see in the short hour we had together. We were five unexpected visitors, and we dug into our haversacks for our picnic lunch, but the Fathers waved our sandwiches away: "You're lucky, we killed a calf for Easter, and the brains are still left! " There were not enough plates to go round, but the food was plentiful. We ended the meal with mango marmalade and we drank the local "wine" of which I was given the recipe. "A hundred and twenty pints of water, some sugar and yeast and a small packet of dried raisins. Leave the lot to simmer in its own juice for some hours." But out here it would first be necessary to blast a well with dynamite, secondly you have very little sugar and thirdly you could drink the whole resulting brew without any intoxication.

Zorgho, which had recently reached the status of a parish, covers a radius of fifty miles, and is populated by 75,000 people of whom 500 are now catechumens preparing for baptism. To me it seemed a desolate sort of place. All I could see from the mission house, against the background of one small hill and a lot of dusty land, were a few poor huts and some goats looking poorer still. I wondered aloud why that empty spot had been chosen for the mission and was told that it is, in fact, at the centre of a very scattered population. The land is so poor that a large area is needed to support a few people.

We left Father Dubois with his problems, his poverty and the joy of this mission in its infancy, and we jolted and bounced again into the town of Kupela, where we soon found the mission and received a warm welcome from Monsignor Yougbara, the First Mossi Bishop of Kupela. This Bishop is History. He is the fourth priest to come from the Mossi and was born here at Kupela in 1917. (Kupela was chosen for the Bishop's See because it is one of the oldest missions of the White Fathers in the Upper Volta. Founded in 1900, it had 10,000 out of the total of 13,000 Christians of the whole area.) He told me how, from his boyhood, he wanted to be a priest. When he was eleven years old he went to the seminary of Pabre, near Wagadugu. He said: "It took us three or four days to walk the one hundred miles to Wagadugu, I was with my uncle and two other boys. I'll never forget my arrival in Wagadugu. I'd never seen a bicycle before and I was afraid! "

The Bishop spoke perfect French. He is a typical Mossi, well built, of medium height, with an intelligent face, bright eyes and a thoughtful expression. His parents are now dead. The Bishop invited me to his room and on the verandah outside I saw an old African sitting on the floor in the corner. The Bishop said: "He's a blind leper. I baptised him last year and now he practically lives on my verandah." We went into the Bishop's room: it was small and plain with a filing cabinet, a table, and a few chairs. The white- washed walls were bare except for a crucifix. As we talked a couple of lizards chased each other across the wall. "The next ten years will be the critical years for the Church in this part of the world," the Bishop said. "Paganism is out of fashion. Everywhere it is becoming despised as backward and primitive. But the African is naturally religious, and in ten years time most of these people here will be either Christians or Moslems."

"What are the prospects of the majority becoming Christians?" I asked. "It depends on our seminaries: that's to say, upon the training of a numerous and good African clergy. At present I have a dozen Mossi priests who are assisted by a dozen White Fathers. That's not nearly enough. There are 450,000 people in this diocese and of these only 13,000 are Catholics. My first need is for more Catholic schools, for these will provide the priests. The people are avid for education, and children flock into the nine schools we already have. Last year, for instance, at Tenkadogo it was decided that the maximum number for the first class was fifty and fifty pupils came. Within a week there were ninety-two children in that classroom. They just arrived! They've also remained. How can we send them away?"

The Bishop went on to tell me how fortunate he was in Kupela with the local Council which does what it can to help. It has a Christian majority and its three Catholic members with one Protestant represent Kupela on the Legislative Council for the Mali Federation. "These Catholic Councillors have no easy task," he said, "they've to show that they're good citizens of the earth as well as of heaven and that they're capable of getting out of creation here below all that God puts into it for the people. Our great danger will come from Moslem rule in the other provinces: Senegal, Guinea and Niger. The opposition to Islam comes from here (Upper Volta), from Dahomey, the Cameroons and the Ivory Coast which are relatively Christian. " The Bishop then returned to the subject of African priests, obviously his predominating thought. Suddenly he smiled delightfully: "I'm to ordain one of my own priests on Sunday. So far I've ordained only one priest, and he was a White Father in Strasbourg! " I could not help thinking that the vital ten years would not wait for those young men in the seminaries to become priests, more help was wanted now from Europe and America or the chance of another Christian country might be lost.

I said Mass at 5-15 a.m. in the Cathedral before leaving. It was not a very grand building, mud with a corrugated iron roof. I was beginning to detest corrugated iron. It warms up during the day and prepares an oven for you to bake in. There were some three hundred people at Mass, and they sang a hymn in Mossi to the tune of "Nearer my God to Thee". With Rome's permission, in honour of poverty, only one candle was used for Mass. I went outside at 6-30 a.m. It was broad daylight and the sun was already hot. There was no guest room, and the previous night the five of us had slept in the Bishop's office. Just as we were going to "bed" a huge Redemptorist, from the neighbouring diocese of Niamy, called with a Brother and an enormous lorry. An hour later they left to drive on another fifty miles in the night —probably seeing that there was "no room in this inn". This was Africa all right. You never know who will call or when: you are never surprised; never taken unawares; you just do all you can to welcome callers and you are always pleased. At 7-30 a.m. we offered our thanks to the Bishop, and I knelt to receive his blessing. He gave it with these parting words: "Let us pray for one another".

The road was terrible, even in a country of bad roads, but it led us safely to Tenkadogo where we found the African Vicar General busy building his own school. It was quite a mission, with two thousand Catholics but a very small church. Another African priest joined us: "Forgive me not appearing at once," he said, "I was busy with the Legion of Mary. We have four fervent praesidia here." We went to the completed part of the school, passing on the way, a tiny statue of St. Francis Xavier, the local patron. I asked if the children liked coming to school. "Like it? Of course! Why wouldn't they like it? Everyone wants to learn. Only one child has missed a class in the last year and that was not his fault. He was in hospital."

Several African Sisters were teaching in the school, and we saw some beautiful specimens of embroidery and of basket work, done by these Mossi girls.

We got back into our lorry and at noon I saw a hospital for sick animals and knew that the British had been here. This was confirmed within five minutes, by a huge poster telling me that "Guinness is Good for You ". It was sheer cruelty: an advert like that at noon on he hottest day I had ever experienced! We moved over to the left of the road - for this was Ghana where people had been taught, amongst other strange things, to "keep to the left".

 

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