Ghana: hospitality, hope, abundance, gratitude
by Carmen F. Aguinaco, NCCHM Presiden
This is a long overdue report on an (still) incredibly fresh experience not just in the memory, but in the heart. In fact, although it happened already 4 months ago, I am still processing feelings, colors, sounds, Scripture passages that spoke to me then and still speak. The message and challenges remain vibrant and viable, particularly as we will soon be embarking in our Lenten journey.
I was privileged to be part of the CRS Diversity Outreach delegation to Ghana, together with another 9 great people representing other ministerial organizations. We traveled through Ghana for ten unforgettable days.
The experience started with two intense days of orientation in Baltimore, during which we not only were introduced to the reality of Ghana and the CRS projects there, but were led to explore our deeper motivations for going there, including not just a natural curiosity for the unknown, but the desire for solidarity with our brothers and sisters there. As it was said again and again, “we wanted to fall in love with the people of Ghana, as solidarity and communion are simply issues of love.” We then traveled to Accra, the capital of Ghana through London. From the very beginning, the hospitality of the CRS workers in Ghana was very evident. It was experienced as a hospitality without any pretenses. Our hosts did not want to impress us with their lavishness or elegance, or even with their more than gracious generosity. They simply wanted to welcome us. In receiving their hospitality, we ourselves were challenged to hospitality: to receive, welcome and embrace our family.
Ghana is one of the most politically stable African countries but, despite the evident progress of the country, Ghana is still experiencing great poverty and need, particularly in the Northern areas, which are more affected by harsh climate and alternating floods and droughts. The programs of CRS are located particularly in this Northern region, through which we traveled for the following 7 days.
Our first stop was the city of Tamale, where we enjoyed Thomas‘ hospitality and attended a most vibrant, celebrative and joyful Eucharist and started experiencing the openness and joy of the community. From Tamale we traveled to Bolgatanga, where we visited the EPPICS project and the Newborn Survival Project (CIMACS) … (See attached reports). The name of the day was, again, hospitality.
The elders of the village, women, children, and religious leaders, all came out to receive us with song and dance. There was a kind of liturgy, which would be repeated everywhere we went, in which the initial songs were followed by words of welcome, presentation of the project, words by one of the delegates, gifts, more songs, and the listing of other things that were needed by the community. As in some other cultures, the expression of gratitude always includes a request: “we thank you for what we have received, and we give you permission to do it again…”
The scene was repeated the following day at the Diocese of Bolgatanga’s program for people living with HIV - Sharper Project. (See attached report). Here, the hospitality was coupled to an incredible sense of hope in the midst of the apparently desperate situation of the many people living with HIV and having to come to terms with the stigma associated with it and the uncertainty for the future of their children. And yet, the sense of joy and liberation was loud, clear, penetrating and contagious.
Although the feelings and excitement were growing, we had not seen everything yet. The following afternoon we visited a parish in the diocese of Wa where hundreds of people welcomed us under the rain to tell us about their efforts to create a savings cooperative that would help everyone financially…solidarity at its very best! And, of their abundance, we received –yes, much in spiritual terms, but also two live goats, two hens, tons of yucca and a barrel of beer!...That night, in Wa, we experienced the hospitality of the local bishop and a community of church leaders that made us regain hope in the future of the universal church with their enthusiasm and commitment. Gently but firmly, the bishop informed us that we simply could not leave our precious gifts with him, because that would simply be rejecting the gifts of the people he represents…There are other options, he said…we finally remembered we had seen an orphanage on our way in that might benefit from the people’s generosity…since our customs agents in the US would be very unlikely to understand that we had to take in livestock and plants into the country.
The following morning we made our last visit to a CRS project, in a water and sanitation project (Global Water Initiative) that brought the experience together by joining hospitality, hope, gratitude and abundance in a wonderful celebration of life.
But the journey was not over. That night we were at the house of the Holy Cross brothers where we had, again, the experience of church community and commitment, and had a wonderful, intimate celebration of the Eucharist on the feast of St. Matthew.
The final full day in Ghana, a touristic sounding event which had all the elements of a retreat and a challenge to conversion. We started in Cape Coast, visiting the Elmina Castle, the departure point for so many slaves going to the New World. It was a heart wrenching experience in a paradoxical beautiful place full of joyful people. The tour guide who explained to us the horrors of the slave trade never had a bitter, resentful, or angry tone. He simply stated the facts as a lesson to be learned never to repeat such inhumanities. But he did it with so much hope and dignity that I believe the lesson really hit home. In the afternoon we sat for a while by the water…and then the whole experience of the trip came together: All you who thirst, let them come to the water…The hospitality of God toward us translates into hospitality from everywhere to everywhere: from the people of Ghana to us and from us, through the projects of CRS, to the people of Ghana. Come without money…come to the water of hope. And there is abundance for all springing from that newly recreated welcoming of each other.
Did we accomplish our goals? Falling in love we did. The question now would be how to call others to solidarity. What can NCCHM do? Perhaps in our conversations in our ministry we can expand the horizons and look beyond our confines and our comfort zones and challenge our people to come into solidarity with our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. The upcoming CRS Lenten campaign provides a good opportunity to do just that.