The journey began on 24 May 2019 when my colleagues and I from Kenya-Tanzania Province traveled to Togo, to attend The AFRAM Zonal Meeting which took place from 27 to 31 May 2019. It was the second SVD AFRAM Zone Characteristic Dimensions Meeting in Kara-Togo. The meeting is held every three years and it brings together Confreres from our missions in Africa and Madagascar, to discuss, discern and plan for the future of our ministry in the Zone. The Dimensions are what forms the extrinsic face of our Society but which also defines each and every one of the members working all over the world. It is what defines our ‘SVDness’.
From my mission in Arusha, Tanzania, I arrived in Nairobi on 22 May 2019 to prepare for the Journey. I joined Bro Douglas Simonetti the Bible Coordinator, and Fr. Leon Ipoma the JPIC coordinator and we traveled together on 24 May 2019. We boarded an Ethiopia airline Flight bound for Addis Ababa, where we were joined by Fr. Rethinasamy Amaldoss the Mission Secretary, who had gone ahead to visit our SSPS sisters in Addis Ababa.
From there we traveled together to Accra Ghana. On arrival at Kotoka International Airport, we were received by our confreres Br. Alex and Br. John. We spent the night in the SVD Guest House on Watson Avenue in Adabraka, Accra, near the Holy Spirit Cathedral.
The next day, we were joined by Frt. Casmil From Togo, who had just finished his third year of Theology in Tamale, Ghana, and was heading back home to prepare for his Over-Sea Training Program (OTP) in Portugal. We boarded a min-bus to the border town of Aflao, where we crossed over to Togo. On the way, we were stopped once by a policeman who ordered the three of us on the back seat to alight. We obeyed the order and without saying anything he ordered us to get back in and allowed the driver to proceed. We were amazed. At the Aflao border point, we had a little delay by the immigration office but fortunately, Fr. Seraphim, the Provincial Superior of Togo-Benin Province came to our rescue.
After clearing at the border we went to the Provincial House in Lome which is about 10 Km from the Border. We were welcomed by Fr. Kizito, the Provincial Treasurer and we had our late lunch. There were a number of other confreres who had arrived earlier for the meeting from different mission countries in AFRAM Zone.
On the evening of that day, we visited our Sisters, the SSPS sisters about 8 Kilometers from the Provincial House. We made the 8 Kilometers stretch by motorbike taxes because in Lome, unlike Nairobi or Accra, there are no “Matatus” or “Trotro” (public transport). To pay for a tax would have been very costly for us.
On Sunday 25 May we all joined the SSPSAP sisters’ (our other sister congregation, commonly known as ‘Pink Sisters’), monastery, where we all concelebrated in the mass. It was my first time to visit their monastery or even meet face to face with one of them. This is because they are not in our province. In fact, in Africa, they are only in Togo.
After the mass, a few of us visited the family of Frt. Justin, who had just completed his OTP program and was preparing to go back to complete his theological studies in Nairobi. His mother prepared some fish and bites for us. Later Frt. Justin and Deac. Honore took us for a tour of the City.
On Monday 26 May, most of the confreres participating in the Zonal meeting had arrived in Lome. We all traveled by bus about 415 Kilometers North of Togo to the second largest city in Togo called Kara, where the Togo-Benin Province is running a Guesthouse. On the way, we visited SSPS sisters in Atakpame where they are running an hospital.
The meeting began on the following day, Tuesday 27 May and ended on Friday 31 May. We had very intense but informative sessions. All the Dimensions came up with their individual Action Plan for the next triennium. In addition, the four dimensions agreed to work together for better missionary practices.
On Saturday 1 June we had a day out and so we made a tour around Kara City. We visited among other places, the Cathedral, the Diocesan Pastoral Center, the Salesians of Don Bosco parish and the city center. That Saturday evening we were treated to a Cultural Dance by the local parish youth group, organized by the Diocesan Parish Priest. They also served us ‘Pito’ the traditional drink.
On Sunday 2 June after the morning mass, we boarded a tax to the Togo-Ghana Border at Tatale, about 75 Kilometers from Kara. The road was not the best but our taxman was quite familiar with the terrain. We arrived at the border around 10:30 a.m. Fr. Peter a priest from the Diocese of Yendi, North of Ghana, received us at the border and took us to our the SVD mission in Yendi town, where we were received by Deacon Francis, Fr. Wange, and Bro. Andrew.
It was around 3 p.m. and so we all went out to a local restaurant for late lunch. Later we visited the Cathedral and also passed by the Bishop residence to visit Most Revered Vincent Boi-Nai, Bishop of Yendi Diocese who is our SVD confrere. He was very happy to receive us.
The Bishop shared with us about the history of Yendi Diocese and the work that the Catholic Church has been doing under his stewardship especially in matters of Peacebuilding and education for the locals. Yendi has been on the news for a long time because of the inter-ethnic conflicts that had brought the economy of the area to ruins. Yendi also is predominantly a Muslim region with about 99 percent of the locals, especially in the town, being Muslims. The Catholics in the town are workers from other regions of Ghana. However, as you go interior to the villages you meet more local Catholic communities. It has only 20 parishes.
Later in the evening, we had a meal together and the confreres shared with us about their ministry in the parish. On the following morning, I woke up early to visit the spiritual garden built by Bro. Andrew. He explained to me the symbolism of the various grottos and sections of the garden. It is a very well planned garden with a lot of spiritual symbolism. For example the grotto of the Mary Mother of the Unwanted Children, which is close to the abortion basket and the symbolic grave of the lost children. He told me that a number of groups have been visiting.
On Monday 3 June after morning mass and breakfast, we boarded a bus to Tamale, 96 Kilometers from Yendi town, where our Philosophy and Theology seminaries are located. The journey was quite bumpy due to the nature of the public transport that was available. We managed only to secure the back seats that have no lower place to rest our legs. Instead, our legs made a shape of letter V and they severally kissed with our chins whenever the bus climbed a bump.
In Tamale, we were received by Fr. Tomy, the rector of the Philosophy seminary and a long time friend to Fr. Samy. After lunch, we went out to visit the fast-growing city. On the way, we passed by the Theology Seminary where we met Fr. Paul. Paul was among the first batch of students who studied in CFC Nairobi. Then we visited TEAKS, the Intercultural Training Centre, run in partnership by SVD and the Archdiocese of Tamale. Back in the seminary that evening, we had dinner together with other confreres working there, Fr. Kudjo, Fr. Benjamin.
On Tuesday 4 June we had mass together and after breakfast Fr. Tomy drove us to St. Joseph’s Parish in Kintampo, about 200 Kilometers down south from Tamale. There we were received by Fr. Alexander and Fr. Victor. After lunch Fr. Alexander took us to visit the waterfalls as well as another SVD house in the town.
On Wednesday 5 June we boarded a bus to the SVD Novitiate in Nkwatia Kwahu 215 Kilometers from Kintampo, where I did my novitiate 10 years earlier. There we were received by Fr. Stephen, the acting Novice Master, Bro. Emmanuel the Assistant Novice Master and Fr. Titus who is going to take over as the Novice Master later this year. I knew Fr. Titus many years ago when he was a Theology student in CFC Nairobi, before he went to Paraguay where he has been working as a Novice master for a number of years.
After dinner, they invited us for the “washing of the feet”, a traditional rite in Ghana where a special drink is served to the guests. We had a long conversation with them about many things concerning our mission as Divine Word Missionaries. I also visited the novitiate cook who was also our cook. Mr. John and his family live in the novitiate compound and he has been cooking for the novices for the last 18 years.
On Thursday 5 June I had the grand opportunity to celebrate mass for the novitiate community. When I was doing my novitiate 10 years earlier, I had prayed that one day I would celebrate mass there. It was a dream come true for me. My novitiate mate, Fr. Eugene Asante, who is working in a nearby parish, came to greet us. After the mass, we had a photo together with the novices followed by breakfast. Then Fr. Titus drove us to Nkawkaw to catch a bus to Nsawam a few kilometers before reaching Accra city.
In Nsawam we went to the SVD Conference Center, where Fr. Thomas De Mello, Fr. Alfred and Fr. Alphonse are working. Two seminarians one from DR Congo and another from Angola were also residing there for their English language practice before they could begin their theological studies in Tamale.
In the same compound, there is also an orthopedic center run by the Notre Dame Sisters, where they take care of the children with disabilities of their limbs as well as the amputees. They have also a special need shoe factory, which also trains young people in making shoes both for internal use and for sale. The center was started by the Late Br. Tarcisius de Ruyter, SVD, in 1961.
On Friday 7 June Fr. Thomas drove us to the SVD Mission in Adabraka, Accra. There we met many confreres from different parts of Ghana and outside. This is kind of a transit center where confreres come from all over Ghana when they have something to do in the city since it is close to the city center. After lunch, we visited a few places in the fast Growing Accra city, such as the Accra Mall among others.
On Saturday 8 June, we traveled back to Nairobi via Addis Ababa. We arrived in Nairobi at 1.35 a.m.
I must say that it has been a journey full of deep missionary inspiration and emotions. We were very inspired by the work our confreres are doing in Togo-Beni and Ghana provinces. We also learned a lot of things that will help us in our respective ministries here in Kenya-Tanzania Province.
We would like to most sincerely thank all the confreres in Togo and Ghana who facilitated our movements and accommodation during our trip and also for sharing with us about their mission experiences.
The Map of the route we took
The route we took
Fr. Lawrence Muthee, SVD