Tuesday, May 24, 2022

African Traditional Religion and Visit to a Diviner

Contrary to what is believed in the West, Ghanaians are intensely religious.  African Traditional Religion (ATR) predates the introduction of Islam in the North and Christianity in the South.  It is wrong to say that the Ghanaian society has no concept of God before the arrival of these two religions which are now firmly entrenched in the country. All religious conversions to Islam or Christianity are done within this context.  

Traditional African Religion is built into the culture of the people and is responsible for many of their beliefs and traditions.  God is constantly referred to in conversations, explanations of natural events, proverbs, children’s name and even greetings.  Greetings always end with a prayer to God. At the end of every social interaction, God is invoked.  “Naawuni Song” (May God help you) is a common phrase in the Dagbani language to end a conversation and of course the expected response is “Ami” (Amen).

ATR posits the existence of a Supreme Creator God, who has mediators in his dealings with humans.  Beneath the supreme god are a number of spirits such as Nature Spirits and the Ancestral Spirits. By honoring these spirits, believers hope that the spirits would help them or would talk to the supreme god on their behalf.

For the African people, the natural and supernatural are one. The Africans have a dual worldview, the physical and the spiritual. This worldview impacts all aspects of their everyday lives including their work, family life and even their food.  Any time there is disharmony between the physical world and the spiritual world, it manifests in problems, calamities and sickness. Therefore, anything affecting the socio-cultural life of the people has a solution if and only if the necessary steps are followed by the believer.

This is the reason why divination still plays a functional role in the life of the people even among Muslim and Christian converts. It is believed that in ATR certain persons, i.e., the diviners have access to both worlds and are able to communicate between these worlds. He plays a key role by diagnosing the problems of the people and also prescribing the necessary actions to remedy/solve their problems.  He also givess warnings about impending danger and provides spiritual explanations for physical events in the lives of the people.

As part of the cross culturation experience at TICCS, we visited a local diviner.  He explained to us that divining is a gift that is passed on only to a man from the matrilineal line of the family in the North and the patrilineal side of the family in the South. The person does not ask that it be granted to him but the ancestral spirits would make known to the family their choice upon whom this bequest is to be given.  The selected heir is expected to accept lest some misfortune befalls him and/or his family for refusing.  A ritual is performed before the “tools of the trade” for lack of a better word is passed on to the selected male. This gift must be protected at all costs by the new diviner.

(Note:  The sack of tools that the diviner received from his ancestors.  According to the diviner, it contains rocks, leaves, twigs, bones, and other items needed to communicate with the spirits.)

Divination readings are often based in nature, taking form through its elements. It can be done with things, such as tea leaves, bones, nuts, and water, as well as cards, and other non-nature-based components.

This diviner uses pebbles to interpret what the spirits want to make known.  For specific questions or problems, he would request to have an object from the consulter that he can hold on to while doing the reading.  The question/issue is never articulated by the subject as this is to be communicated by the spirits to the diviner. For general consultations, he uses the pebbles and shakes the bowl several times. He then picks up some of  the pebbles depending on how they are laid out in the bowl after the shaking.  This is repeated several times until he is ready to give the reading. 

(Here, he is holding the pebble that represents the Almighty.)

A closer look at all the other pebbles in the bowl. At the start of the reading , the Diviner would assign a pebble to represent the consulter.)                                

While divination has been disparaged and at the same time given some kind of religiosity by some scholars, it is worthwhile to note that its hold on the people may be because it serves as a positive reminder that while life involves suffering, it is not always futile – that humanity is equally capable of tenderness and mercy.

 No one has to point God out to a child.

-Ghanaian Proverb

Tuesday, May 17, 2022


 After a month and half in this country, it is noticeably clear that Ghana Africa has a diverse and exciting culture.  It is renowned as a cultural melting pot, home to more than one hundred tribes and almost fifty languages.  Each tribe has its own set of cultural norms practiced in the different regions of the country.

The Bishop of Damongo, His Lordship Peter Paul Angkyier deemed it necessary for me to have a deeper understanding of the culture of Ghana to be more effective in my missionary service to the people of Damongo.  

To this end, the Diocese of Damongo enrolled me in a one-month course at Tamale Institute of Cross-Cultural Studies (T.I.C.C.S). TICCS as it is fondly called in Tamale Northern Ghana is a teaching and research facility opened by the Catholic Church and the Divine Word Missionaries in 1983.  It aims to enhance international and intercultural understanding and provide classes and experiences through a deep cultural immersion of the Ghanaian culture and society.

The class of May 2022 was organized by the Director of the Institute, Fr. Phanuel, SVD and Dr. Dominic Amonzen.  Other distinguished lecturers in their respective areas of expertise have also been invited to share their knowledge to the class.  

In the first week, classes were centered around general orientation of the Religions of Ghana, Contemporary Issues in Catholic Marriage, language learning, liturgy and the Do’s and Don’ts in Ghana.  The last one was really interesting to know as each tribe would have its own norms that can be the complete opposite for another tribe.  This week centered on how the Ghanaians would view a foreigner from a stranger to a guest to a visitor and insider.  Of course, the goal is to move from the stranger status to the insider (you are now considered one of them).

The second week delved more deeply into the lessons of the first week supplying more context and emphasizing the importance of ethno-relativism, i.e., evaluation of a culture based on a deep and heartfelt respect for other cultures and that all are inherently equal. The last two weeks will be centered on Cross-Cultural Communication.  The class will also have field excursions to a Diviner, a witch camp, a clinic for the poor and destitute and visits to some institutions in town, particularly the SVD, Carmelite monastery, the University of Development Studies, and the Cathedral.

Let me just introduce you to my “classmates” in this course.  The class is made up of 3 Nigerian Carmelite priests who have come to take over an outstation parish and convert it to a new full pledged parish here in Tamale.  We also have 3 Oblates Missionaries of Mary, two of whom are priests (one from Nigeria and another from Senegal) and a brother from Poland.  The OMIs are ministering in the Diocese of Ho.  The Bishop has tasked the OMIs to look after the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto in Kpando-Agbenoxoe Volta Region. Yes, I am the only female member of the class.  They have taken to calling me “blessed among men” sister. It is our hope that with these learning, we would soon move from being a stranger to an insider.  Please continue to pray for our Missionaries.

All human activity takes place within a culture and interacts with culture.

-St. John Paul II

"Centesimus Annus".   Encyclical Letter on the Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum, w2.vatican.va. May 01, 1991. 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Holy Week & Easter Part III

Easter Sunday

For Easter Sunday, we went to the St. Theresa Parish Church.  The community was pleasantly surprised when the Bishop arrived to celebrate the Easter Sunday liturgy.  As expected, the Church was full and jampacked.  For the Gloria and the Our Father, eight little children led the community in dancing and singing in the local language. There was also considerable dancing during the Collection and Offertory Procession. I must admit that I danced my way to the collection box set at the front of the Altar.  After the Mass, everyone wanted to greet the Bishop.  We joined the crowd in greeting His Lordship and when we finally met him, he reminded us about the Easter Monday Diocese picnic to close the Holy Week and Easter Sunday festivities.

Easter Monday

The Easter and Holy Week activities did not end with Easter Sunday. There was a Mass at 10:00 am at the Unity Center on Easter Monday.  Following the Mass, there was a picnic where everyone brought food for sharing.  There were also vendors who sold food and drinks for those who were not able to bring food.  Families and friends, the young and old were there to celebrate this wonderful day.  I saw the Bishop and commented that I almost did not recognize him because of the way he was dressed.  He told me that he takes out his Ghanaian attire once a year for this occasion.  I even saw him dancing as he made his way to the different tables to greet everyone.  The Vicar General was also there in his Ghanaian attire. I also saw some priests going around greeting their parishioners.  In the afternoon, there were games played, a dancing competition and dancing by just about everyone.  Karen and I also met a German dentist who comes once a year to Damongo for her personal mission to serve the people of the Diocese.  It was a delightful way to complete the Holy Week and Easter celebrations.

At the end of this day as I reflected on the week that was, I thanked God for this wonderful experience. I also thanked God for the sacrifice he made on that day at Calvary for us.  It is truly hard to fathom how our God had to undergo so much suffering for someone like me who does not deserve it.  I could only think of one explanation: LOVE.

“Love and sacrifice are closely linked, like the sun and the light.  We cannot love without suffering and we cannot suffer without love.”

-        St. Gianna

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Holy Week & Easter Part II


Holy Week culminates in the Paschal Triduum, the three days commemorating the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ. It begins with the liturgy on the evening of Maundy Thursday.

Mass of the Lord's Supper

During the evening of Holy Thursday, Karen and I joined the parishioners of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus for the celebration by the Vicar General of the Lord's Supper.  This was the only one Mass, at which the whole community and priest of the parish participated. This was a very joyful Mass, as we recall the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the priesthood.  And after a long time, we once again heard the bells rung and the Gloria sung.  After the Communion Prayer, there was no final blessing because the Mass will not end until after the resurrection mass is celebrated. The Holy Eucharist was carried in procession through the Church and then transferred into a place of reposition. The Church remained open until midnight for adoration. Because of space limitations, adoration was scheduled for each of the different groups, e.g., the Gonjas, the Dagaaba, etc.  It was an invitation to silent and prolonged adoration of the wondrous sacrament instituted by Jesus on that day. After mid-night on Holy Thursday, the adoration concluded without solemnity since the day of the Lord's Passion had already begun.

Washing of Feet

The Holy Thursday liturgy also commemorated Jesus’ symbolic act of the washing of the feet of his disciples to show that he had come to serve and that they were to do the same – serve others in humble love. The Vicar removed his vestments, wore his apron, and proceeded to wash the feet of the volunteer elderly, the youth, the women, and men of the parish.  He challenged everyone to be ready to wash the feet of others, i.e., be of service to others.

Good Friday

Good Friday morning, the devotees flocked to the Church for the final Stations of the Cross.  The Church doors were opened again at 3:00 p.m. for the Black Friday Liturgy. The Cathedral altar was completely bare, with no cloths, candles nor cross. The cross at the center of the Church was also covered. The service was divided into three parts: Liturgy of the Word, Veneration of the Cross and Holy Communion. For the Veneration of the Cross, we knelt on both knees in front of the cross and said a short prayer in lieu of the customary kissing of the cross.  This was to comply with the Covid protocols in place.

Holy Saturday/Easter Vigil

Holy Saturday was the quietest day of the entire Church year, a day with no liturgical function. Although we were still in mourning, there was much preparation during this day to prepare for Easter. It is during the night between Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday that the Easter Vigil is celebrated. The service began around ten o'clock, in order that the solemn Vigil Mass may start at midnight.  Unfortunately, Karen and I were not able to attend the Vigil Mass, but I am sure it was a joyous celebration welcoming the new members of the universal Church.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Holy Week & Easter Part I

In my last blog I shared that the Church is truly universal. The Catholic Church is not just an association of different particular Churches.  It is rooted in a variety of cultures with a myriad of external expressions. This couldn’t be more apparent than in the liturgical celebration of the Paschal mystery I experienced in the community of the Diocese of Damongo in Ghana. Let me share with you some of the highlights.

Lenten Walk

The Holy Week celebration for the Diocese began a day earlier than what we are accustomed to.  On the Saturday before Palm Sunday, the youth of the parish and a few oldies like myself joined a Lenten Walk, a Stations of the Cross procession to a large hill.  The group met at the Old Cathedral for the First Station and worked its way through the streets of Damongo (about 1.5 miles walk) to the bottom of the hill where the 13th Station was prayed.  Karen and I did not actually join the procession but went to the hill together with the men who carried the table, chairs, and other provisions for the day’s activities.  The Bishop must have known that we would slow down the group as they made their way to the top of the hill, so he requested Karen to drive the volunteers to the site. 

Our penance for the Holy Week actually began that day.  It was difficult for us and at some point, Karen and I were on our hands and knees as we climbed the hill.  Everything had been set-up by the time the group arrived for the 14th Station.  As we sat down on the rocks and branches of trees for the Bishop’s recollection, it reminded me of what it might have been at Christ’s sermon on the mount.  

A Penitential service followed the recollection with confessions made available for those who wanted it.  The culmination of the day’s event was the celebration of the Mass.  Going down the hill was scarier as we were worried that we would slip and just fall.  A seminarian and a few students were assigned to help us, and we made it.  It was an exhausting day but truly blessed.  Karen and I arrived home at 4:30 p.m. and woke up the next morning to get ready for the Palm Sunday Mass.

Palm Sunday

The Palm Sunday celebration began with the blessing of the Palms by the Bishop and a procession from the Agri school to the Cathedral, a distance of 1.4 kms.  As everyone processed into the Church drums were playing, parishioners were dancing and singing Hallelujah. It was a site to behold. Everyone was dressed in their finest.  The Cathedral was almost a sea of red that day.

Chrism Mass

We had the Chrism Mass on Wednesday.  All but one of the 38 priests of the Diocese were there for the renewal of their ordination vows and the blessing of the oils. This Mass celebrates the institution of the priesthood.  The Bishop also blessed and explained the (1) Oil of the Sick used for the anointing of the sick, (2) the oil of the Catechumen used for those catechumens who are preparing for the Easter Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist and (3) the Sacred Chrism used in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Ordination of Priests, in the dedication of Churches and altars. These oils were received by the parish community at the Evening Mass of Thursday of the Lord’s Supper. For the Diocese of Ghana this year’s Chrism mass was very touching with the presence of a priest participating in his Chrism Mass for the first time. During the announcement before the final blessing, the young priest was introduced to the parishioners.  I was also briefly introduced to the community as the new missionary to serve the Diocese.  A luncheon was prepared by the Bishop for his priests, and Karen and I were invited.  This gave me an opportunity to meet the priests personally. 

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Arrived Safely In Ghana

At last, I am in Ghana!  The trip to Damongo, Ghana was long and exhausting– 15.52 hour of actual air travel, 2 hours of land travel, 2.5 hours layover and about 4 hours of overall entry and exit process at two airports.

Upon arrival at Accra (first stop in my Ghana adventure), I was greeted with scorching temperatures that I am unaccustomed to.  The process of entering the country was long and cumbersome.  With 4 suitcases, a carry-on luggage, and a backpack, I was worried how I would manage.  But a lot of people must have been praying for me that day.  I had wheelchair assistance (due to a pulled muscle I suffered before I left) from the moment I stepped out of the plane.  Michael, the man assisting me, was probably the supervisor of the passenger assistance group and was given preferential treatment and we were breezing through all the required steps. He also took care of my luggage and requested the customs officer to no longer open a suitcase (apparently a regulation) because I would have to stand up. It was good to finally arrive at the Diocese guesthouse and stay in an air-conditioned room for the night. 

The air travel to Tamale took one hour but to board and deboard the plane, one has to walk through the tarmac to get to the plane.  This was alright but the flight was at 12 noon and the sun was really blazing hot.  Upon arrival in Tamale, a gentleman came to assist me.  His name was George, and he was actually not scheduled to work that day but our missionary in Damongo, Karen Hunka had arranged for him to come and help me.  I was expecting to see Karen and Headmistress Mary at the airport but was instead greeted by the Bishop of Damongo. He had excused himself from his meeting in Tamale to come to the airport.  This was truly a surprise and unexpected blessing.  The Bishop even took me to lunch at the Tamale Guesthouse restaurant. He had arranged for his driver to take me to Damongo as he was staying behind to continue with his activities at Tamale. The drive to Damongo took all of 2 hours and I was brought home to Karen’s house.

Karen is such a gracious host.  She took the day-off the following day to bring me to the Damongo market to get my phone and sim card.  She also took me to my first taste of Ghanian food. I had Banku, a cooked slightly fermented cassava dough and ground nut chicken stew eaten with your hands.  It was agreeable but different, but I am sure in time it would grow on me.

I stay at the St. Anne’s Girls High School compound with 30 students and some teachers.  It is a boarding school like all schools in Ghana.  I had the opportunity to join the ladies at their Friday Mass at 6 am and also their entertainment night on Saturday evening.  It was such a fun night with the ladies showcasing their singing and dancing prowess.

On Sunday, I attended the Mass at the Cathedral.  Everything I heard about the length of the liturgy service was right.  It is rather long compared to our Masses in the USA.  That first Sunday Mass I attended was about 2.5 hours which according to local folks was short.  The liturgy was lively, a lot of singing and dancing.  Everyone stood up for the collection bringing their offering to the altar with some even dancing their way to the front.  The offering procession was also different in that after the host and wine are brought up to the priest at the altar, ladies and a few gentlemen would come to bring offerings of fruits, vegetable, bread, grains, water, etc.  It was a delight to witness.  The one thing I realized is that the Church is truly UNIVERSAL.

As I continue this journey and face challenges along the way like WIFI access, the heat and getting my morning cup of brewed coffee, milk, and other staples I am accustomed to, I just have to remind myself that I am now in the Savannah Region of Ghana.  I need to let go of the comforts of home so that I can be present for the people I will serve.

"It is important to realize that you cannot journey to a new place and at the same time stay where you are.”     - Matthew Kelley, Rediscover Jesus 

Monday, March 21, 2022

No Unforseen Detours

Life can change in a single moment.  This is not just the stuff seen in movies.  Our life can really change in an instant, for better or for worse.

All my bags were packed, ready to return to Los Angeles mid-January to get ready for my mission journey to Ghana and in an instant my plans had to change.  I will not be able to leave Manila until February 22.  For someone who thrives in making contingency strategies this was very difficult.   I was helpless to do anything – things were just not happening the way I had intended them. I finally made it to the Mission House in February and was scheduled to leave for Ghana on March 15. But again, this was not to be.  All these changes have been very challenging and has caused anxiety. 

However, looking back I can now say that there are no unforeseen detours. It was, in fact, for the better and not for the worse.  I know now that nothing is unplanned for, nothing left to chance. And there is nothing to fear, nothing to dread. Nothing to get upset about.  I am being taught the way of trust, surrender and hope. 

As I finally leave for Ghana tomorrow (3/22), I bring with me Thomas Merton’s A Prayer of Unknowing as a reminder that I do not journey alone – that it is in fact OUR PATH (Christ and mine) designed specifically for us.

 A Prayer of Unknowing By Thomas Merton

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that, if I do this, You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust You always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.

– Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, page 79.

African Traditional Religion and Visit to a Diviner

Contrary to what is believed in the West, Ghanaians are intensely religious.  African Traditional Religion (ATR) predates the introduction o...