During the summer months, a missionary usually visits each parish in the diocese. The purpose, of course, is to let our parishioners know about the ongoing missionary activity of the Church and to invite them, through prayers and monetary contributions, to be agents of the new evangelization and assist in the spread of our Catholic faith. The Church is essentially missionary and it has ever been so since our Lord told His apostles to go out to all nations and baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke of this essential nature of the Church in the encyclical Redemptoris Missio in 1990. He reminded us that even in our own day there are more and more people who do not know Christ and do not belong to the Church. The Church, each one of us, has a responsibility to make Christ known. All of us priests, religious and lay faithful are missionary by virtue of our baptism. While some are specially chosen to serve in either the home or foreign missions all of us have a responsibility to understand the missionary nature of the Church and to support it through our prayers and contributions. I hope when a missionary visits your parish you will respond according to your means.
A few weeks ago, I had a delightful visit in my office with Bishop Peter Paul Angkyier, the Bishop of Damongo in Ghana. His diocese was established in 1995 and he is the second Bishop of this predominantly rural diocese covering about 11,000 square miles in the poorest and most deprived area of the county. More than 86 percent of the diocese’s population lives in the rural communities with populations under 1,000 people. Poverty in the area is extremely high and there are practically no formal income and employment opportunities. Subsistence farming is the mainstay of the majority of the people, about 90 percent of the population. Education in general is poor in this part of the country due to lack of facilities. As a result there is a very high illiteracy rate, 95 percent among women and 74 percent among men.
The diocese is also a multi-ethnic environment with 22 ethnic groups. Of the estimated population of 500,000, Catholicism represents about 5 percent of the people with over 80 percent animists. This indicates clearly that the diocese is one of primary evangelization and the Bishop told me that the animists are very open to evangelization. The 23,000 Catholics are served by 40 diocesan priests and four religious order priests in 12 parishes and 108 mission stations. Twenty-seven religious women live and work among the people.
Bishop Angkyier told me that on a good Sunday, the collection in his Cathedral might approach $100 U.S. and that he is able to pay his priests about $10 per month. I have invited the Bishop to return to Syracuse in the future. Hopefully through the Missionary Cooperative Program we will be able to help him as he prepares catechists to teach and witness to our holy Catholic faith.
Although they are not from the diocese of Damongo, we are privileged to have two priests from Ghana living and working in our diocese. Msgr. Francis A. Osei-Nyarko lives and works at Holy Family in Fairmount and Father Gabriel Adansi Fordjour works at St. Mary’s and St. Paul’s in Binghamton. They enrich our diocese by their presence and we are very grateful to them for being here. They too are missionaries — bringing the precious faith to people in our own community.
As Blessed John Paul II said, “Today, as never before, the Church has the opportunity of bringing the Gospel, by witness and word, to all people and nations. I see the dawning of a new missionary age, which will become a radiant day bearing an abundant harvest, if all Christians, and missionaries and young churches in particular, respond with generosity and holiness to the calls and challenges of our time.” Blessed John Paul II encourages peoples everywhere to open their doors to Christ.
I hope and pray that the Lord will fill our own hearts with missionary zeal and enable us to bring others — both at home and in far distant lands — to the truths of our Catholic faith.
If you have an intention that you would like me to remember in prayer, please forward it to me at 240 E. Onondaga Street, Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.