Ghana, The Catholic Church in
GHANA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Formerly the British Colony of the Gold Coast, the Republic of Ghana is located in West Africa bordering the Gulf of Guinea on the south, Côte d'Ivoire on the west, burkina faso on the north and northwest, and togo on the east. A flat region with a predominately tropical climate, Ghana rises to mountains in the southeast. The north is primarily grassland, while in the south are dense forests. Agricultural products include coco, cassava, corn and palm oil, while natural resources consist of bauxite, diamonds, gold and manganese. Harmattan winds visit the region in late winter, and periods of drought are not uncommon.
Ghana, which was formed from a merger of several British colonial holdings—on the west the Gold Coast and on the east the Togoland Trust Territory—was granted internal autonomy in 1954 and independence in 1957. In 1960 it became a republic within the British Commonwealth, and fell under a series of civilian regimes before beginning multi-party elections in 1993. Despite the wealth of natural resources in the region, by the start of the 21st century Ghana remained dependent on foreign aid due to its continued instability.
The Developing Church. Encompassing an ancient African kingdom known as "the land of gold" as early as 800, Ghana was discovered by Portuguese traders in 1471. Portuguese priests arrived at the coast beginning in 1482, although their efforts were hampered by the developing slave trade in the region. Ghana was captured by the Dutch in 1637, but was returned to the Portuguese in trade for Brazil five years later. Sporadic missionary work was carried on by the Augustinians (1572–76), the Capuchins (1637–84) and the Dominicans (1687–1704), although these early efforts were seriously hampered by tribal hostilities, a myriad of native languages, an unhealthy climate and the now-booming slave trade carried on by competing Dutch, British, Danish and French interests. Accra had an African priest from 1679 to 1682.
The Vicariate of the Two Guineas, created in 1842, included Ghana. In 1879, four years after the region became a British colony, the Prefecture Apostolic of the Gold Coast was erected and entrusted to the Society of the african missions. Catholic missionary work began in earnest in 1880, following active Protestant evangelization efforts begun as early as 1737 and growing in strength through the efforts of Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries in the 1800s. In 1901 Ghana expanded northward and by 1906 the White Fathers began to evangelize this new region. In 1943 the Prefecture Apostolic of Accra was established and entrusted to the Society of the divine word. In 1950, with 300,000 Catholics in the country, the hierarchy was established, with Cape Coast (formerly Vicariate of the Gold Coast, 1901–50) as archdiocese and metropolitan see. The Ghana Catholic Bishop's Conference was established in 1960.
In 1956 the territory of Togoland voted for union with Ghana, and the region achieved independence from Great Britain a year later, on March 7, 1957. A republic was established under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah in 1960, but was overthrown by a military coup in 1966. Although the civilian government was restored in 1969, its fall again within three years foreshadowed the political unrest that would plague the region for several decades.
Bibliography: r. m. wiltgen Gold Coast Mission History: 1471–1880 (Techny, IL 1956). Bilan du Monde, 2 v. (Tournai 1964) 2:403–408.
[r. m. wiltgen]
The Modern Church. The Second Vatican Council, held from 1962–65, inspired a re-evaluation of the Ghanaian Church's relationship to its cultural milieu. Taking account of the socio-religious traditions shaping the country, the Church recognized the need for a dynamic interaction between the Gospels and native traditions. As a result, meaningful symbols from local cultures were introduced into the liturgy, and in catechesis Ghanaian concepts were used to transmit the message of the Gospel. Another postconciliar development was the resurgence of spiritual activity among lay people. The Spiritual Renewal Center in Kumasi and the Wanye Renewal Center at Wa were organized to support the formation of lay groups in their regions. As a result of diocesal training, lay people soon staffed national and diocesan departments and commissions.
Church Weathers Political Upheaval. Through a series of coups, a succession of governments held short-term control of the country following the fall of Nkrumah. Then, in 1979 a military government under Jerry Rawlings took power through brutal means. On Dec. 31, 1981 the brutality of Rawlings and his cadre of junior military officers reached extreme proportions, including the murder of three judges and a retired army major. The constitution was suspended, and freedom of speech curtailed. Catholic schools had been nationalized in 1950; in 1987 the teaching of Christian religion within Ghana's public schools was further curtailed by the state, and by the late 1990s the Church role in education had been reduced to appointing and supervising teachers. In 1985 the government forced the shut-down of the Church-run Catholic Standard after it criticized state policy, and four years later, in June of 1989, required the registration of all religious bodies, although this law was later repealed. The Catholic Standard resumed publication in 1992. The Church remained active in the areas of education, medical care and socio-economic well-being. Under pressure from international organizations, Rawlings eventually restored democracy, although he won the first multiparty election, held in November of 1992 amid some controversy.
Continues Active Role in Politics, Society. The growing presence of native bishops in the Ghana Catholic Bishops' Conference during the 1970s enabled it to play an active role in the protection and defense of human rights. The Conference maintained a good working relationship with the Christian Council of Ghana and on several instances worked together to jointly protest
government injustices. In 1972 the bishops published a statement on family planning to express concern about public policy. A pastoral letter in December of 1973 stressed the right to life as fundamental to human beings. In September of 1982, a Justice and Peace Commission document drew the nation's attention to the causes of the
steady desertification of the country. To stop the process, it made some important recommendations and suggested measures for their implementation. In July of 1988 the bishops issued a statement on the effects of the government's Economic Recovery Program, expressing their indignation at high taxes, the importation of drugs forbidden in the countries of their origin and the vast funds being used for Family Planning. And in 1991 they published The Catholic Church and Ghana's Search for a New Democratic System, a document that strongly advocated the promotion of human rights, the harmonization of aspects of structures and norms of traditional constitutions with modern ones, party politics and the enshrinement of the freedom of expression and of the press in a future constitution. Ghana's April 1992 constitution reflected most of the concerns in this document.
Into the 21st Century. By 2000 Ghana had 289 parishes, tended by 684 secular and 169 religious priests. Three major seminaries were in operation: St. Victor's at Tamale, St. Peter's at Cape Coast and St. Paul's in Accra. In 1990 the Holy Ghost Fathers opened a House of Philosophy at Ejisu and an Institute for Continuing Formation for the religious was also established. The country's 172 brothers and 767 sisters were active in the ministry of the Church, aiding in the operation of hospitals, clinics, nurses' training colleges, midwifery training schools, pharmacies and orphanages. The Christian Hospitals Association of Ghana (CHAG), Catholic and Protestant served as a liaison between religious-run service organizations and the Ministry of Health.
Among the issues facing the Church by 2000 was the continued conflict between local cultures and Christianity caused by the proliferation of syncretic churches that adopted some Christian doctrines while placing them within a native faith. Financial self-reliance, the treatment of leprosy, AIDS and other diseases, and efforts to maintain public health through the preservation of safe drinking water also received Church attention. Of particular concern to Catholics with regard to tribal religions was the prevalence of a form of religious slavery known as "trokosi" which violated the human rights of thousands of young women and children in the Ewe tribe. A pastoral letter issued in 1997 calling for an end to ethnic tensions and political corruption was followed up by Pope John Paul II in February of 1999, when he encouraged Ghanaian bishops to help the nation's weakest people, adding that "Rivalries based on race or ethnic origin have no place in the Church of Christ."
Bibliography: j. g. amamoo The New Ghana: The Birth of a Nation (2000). Common Journey, Different Paths, ed. s. rakoczy, (Maryknoll, NJ 1992). christian council of ghana and ghana catholic bishops' conference, The Election of President and Parliamentarians for the Fourth Republic (Accra 1992). ghana catholic bishops' conference, The Catholic Church and Ghana's Search for a New Democratic System (Accra 1991). j. s. pobee, Religion and Politics in Ghana (Asempa, 1992); Kwame Nkrumah and the Church in Ghana: 1949–66 (Chicago, IL 2000). Mission in Dialogue, eds., m. motte and j. lang (Maryknoll, NJ 1982) 537–43. k. shillington, Ghana and the Rawlings Factor (London 1991). Missiology, 19 (1991) 59–68. Pro Mundi Vita Dossiers: Africa, 32 (1985) 2–38. PMV Bulletin, 53 (1975) 1–36. AFER, 23 (1981) 37–39. Journal of Religion in Africa, 17/1 (1987) 44–62. Annuario Pontificio has data on all diocese.
[g. a. mante/eds.]