Bishop Lynch visits Ghana


In November 2007 Bishop Patrick Lynch led a delegation from the Church in England and Wales to Ghana. The three of us, Bp Pat, Canon James Cronin and Fr Philip Knights came to represent the Pontifical Mission Societies to meet the Church and people, strengthen friendships and observe the progress of projects supported by the Association for the Propagation of the Faith (APF Red Boxes), Holy Childhood and other funds generously supported by the Catholics of England and Wales.

What immediately struck us was the vigour, vibrancy and tremendous growth of the Ghanaian Church. In twenty years they had moved from 5 Dioceses to 18. At the time of Independence in 1957, Catholics were 9% of the population now they are 15%, the President of the Conference of Bishops is planning for growth to 25% in the next 50 years. The priorities that emerged from that were: formation, particularly of the clergy and catechists; education, which has been a strong emphasis since the time of the Liverpudlian Archbishop Porter, especially the secondary sector and now the bishops are building a Catholic University to enhance further their already great commitment to the tertiary education sector. The contribution of Religious to education has been very significant at primary, secondary and in Teacher Training Colleges.

There is also a huge need to build new churches for congregations outgrowing their buildings – we saw one parish where they had already re-built once and were now rebuilding for the third time – made possible by funds from APF.

The timing of our visit coincided with the meeting of the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference. It was quite clear that the Bishops were concerned not just with internal Church growth but were active in fostering the development of the nation. They are leaders in debates in the public forum and are not only vocal but influential in the fields of health, education and caring for those on the margins of the current economic growth in Ghana. We found spending time with the bishops stimulating, entertaining and hospitable; we were overwhelmed by the warmth of their welcome to us and honoured by the way they invited us to address conference and listened to our contributions.

Much of our time was travelling around Ghana meeting people and seeing projects. We saw minor and major Seminaries, including the new diocesan major seminary of St Gregory’s being built for the Province of Kumasi and St Joseph’s minor seminary where they are constructing a new library, both with the help of APF money from England and Wales. We saw schools, including St Mary’s, Sunyani, where a new dining room is supported by money raised through Holy Childhood in England and Wales. We were delighted to meet Sr Pat Pearson DMJ (Daughters of Mary and Joseph) at the centre for those suffering from Hansens’s Disease (Leprosy) at Ahotokrom. She was warm in her appreciation of support from the UK, especially from the Diocese of Southwark. She took us to meet the smiling Deacon Philip who has suffered from a series of dreadful accidents and she said baldly: ‘without Southwark, he’d be dead now’. She and the other DMJ sisters care for those excluded from their families – despite the medical infection being cured, the stigma is still virulent. We met Br Jos from CAS – Catholic Action on Street Children – who provides a way off the streets and into education for some of the thousands of children adrift in Accra, victims of the breakdown of the traditional extended family.

It was very good to build bridges with Ghana. The Ghanaian Bishops were eager to keep and strengthen the traditional links between their Church and the Church in England and Wales. There was a recognition of the needs of Ghanaians in the UK and they responded very well to proposals suggested for a Ghanaian chaplain in London. Many of the Bishops themselves have studied in the UK and indeed have family and friends in England. Cardinal Turkson was himself in London in October 2007 and there are many other exchanges between our nations. One moving, if traumatic, visit for us was to see one of the castles used during the era of the transatlantic slave trade. It was a very beautiful, almost idyllic location for an horrific and ghastly abuse of human dignity. 200 years ago our country made a step towards addressing that wrong. Today we are partners in continuing the ongoing work of development and growth. It is clear that the Ghanaians see Britain as a favoured partner in this; the continuing support of the PMS is one way we can make concrete that partnership.