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
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
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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