Source: Charles Wereko-Brobby
One of the favourite “tollies” I tell of my “charmed and eventful life, is that the school where I had my primary education was the only Catholic school in Ghana with a majority Muslim pupil population.
The St. Peter’s Primary & Middle School complex was part of the Catholic Cathedral complex in Kumasi, which also hosted the residence of Bishop Van De Brunk and the administrative offices of the Roman Catholic Church in Ashanti. In 1961, Kumasi was one of the only four (4) Catholic Dioceses in Ghana, the others being Cape Coast, Accra & Tamale.
Because the whole Catholic Complex was and is still situated in the heart of Zongo, indeed just a stone throw’s away from the Zongo-hene’s Palace, it became one of the magnets for the education of the children of Muslim leaders who believed the future of their wards lay in getting formal western education. The English Church Mission (ECM) School and ASEM Government Boys School were the two other local institutions that provided avenues for western education for Muslim children
Muslim pupils made up a very significant percentage of St. Peter’s population, despite the fact that the universal Catholic Church was at its most intolerant phase (when the Catholic Church did not even acknowledge Anglicans, let alone Methodists & Presbyterians) and the school was at the seat of the Catholic Church in Ashanti, Brong Ahafo and parts of the Eastern Regions)
And yet, the remarkable thing was that the Muslim pupils at St. Peter’s primary were never forced to abandon their faith and participate in the teaching of Catholic doctrine nor attendance at mass on Sunday (compulsory for Catholics who had to register their attendance. Rather, Muslim pupils were not only excused, they were provided with classrooms where they could do as they please.
As I recall, the only compulsory interaction of Muslim pupils with the teachings of the Catholic faith was the ubiquitous opening prayer that preceded each morning’s school Assembly,
Years later, I met some of my St. Peter’s Muslim friends who had voluntarily converted to Catholicism later in life; unlike most of us who had become Catholics because our FATHERS (Biological NOT Religious) were of the Catholic Faith. I suspect this inheritance of Religious Faith to be true of the overwhelming majority of people in Ghana and around the World.
Thus, it is that my enormous tolerance of different Faiths and Religions was formed in my infancy in an otherwise Intolerant and Imperial Universal Catholic Faith that saw itself as the only path to GOD the Almighty.
In Achimota School, I continued to be imbued with the tolerance for the recognition of Multi- Faith and Multi-Religions. Even here, the groupings were The Catholics (ensconced on top of the Administration Building); the Protestants in the Aggrey Memorial Church; and the Muslims in the School Reading Room).
I was a mass server in St. Peter’s Primary and under the legendary Father John O’Sullivan at Achimota School. I hold the distinction of having served at the first mass of the returned Rev. Dr. Peter Akwasi Sarpong, who was to later to change the whole character of the Catholic Church in Ghana. His influence was so profound that I was to publish his seminal book LIBATION which was to distinct Cultural practice from Faith.
So how is that almost 60 years on from St, Peter’s Primary, and now Emeritus Bishop Sarpong’s historic transformation of the Catholic Church in Ghana, I am reading that The Catholic Bishops Conference of Ghana has literally told ‘s Muslims in their schools to take part in Catholic rituals or ship out if they feel affronted. (“IF YOU DON’T LIKE COMPULSORY DEVOTION, LEAVE- CATHOLIC BISHOPS TELL MUSLIMS”)
What a pity. I recently met my favourite Catholic Bishop and assured him that I was contemplating a return to an active practice of the faith after so many years of hiatus. My reason was basically my seeing the pictures of Pope Francis hosting all of the leaders of the great Faiths and Religions of the World at the Vatican.
The symbolism could not have been more significant, Here was GOD’s own appointed Primus on Earth, successor to St. Peter, upon whose rock He built his Imperial Church, not only embracing other Christian denominations, but also breaking bread with the Chief Rabbi of Jews, the Patriarch of the Orthodox Churches; the head of the Hindus; Heads of the main Muslim sects.. Etc. Pity Okomfo Anokye’s grandson was not invited as a “toofer.”
Where from all this intolerance and breakout of Religious Intolerance from Ghana’s Catholics and Christians? Unfortunately, it is not new, but rather a culmination of intolerance which has come as a by-product of creeping Christian Fundamentalism in Ghana.
It is the height of supreme irony that as the Global Village learns to accommodate and become tolerable of Religious diversity and the freedom to worship “GOD” in His many manifestations, Ghana, hailed as a haven of Religious Tolerance in Africa, is in the grips of high degree of the Intolerance Christian Fundamentalism.
I have seen many examples of this intolerance in my own life. I became a personal victim of this when an invitation extended to my wife to be was withdrawn at the last minute because some earthly ‘gods” decided I was not a “true” Christian, Me who had served on the altar of the one ad only TRUE UNIVERSAL CHRUCH. My enthusiasm for my Class “What’s Up” platform has waned because of oppressive attempts to promote the Christian faith over all others.
Every Public occasion in Ghana has to suffer the oppression of Opening and Closing Prayers. Naturally they open with the Christian Prayer and depending on how enlightened the convener is, or the public character of the event, a closing Muslim prayer. No other Faith or Religion is given a look –in.
The absurdity of Christian Oppression and Intolerance reached its apogee when the late President Prof. J. E. A Mills banned the pouring if libation at his swearing –in ceremony. Very soon, the ban spread to all public events under his Presidency. And despite his untimely death, and Emeritus Bishop Akwasi Sarpong’s seminal book, LIBATION, continues to be barred from public events.
The Constitution of the 4th Republic of Ghana is very clear and unambiguous on the subject. Article 21. (b) All persons shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief, which shall include academic freedom; (c) All persons shall have the right to freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice.” Nowhere is it stated in our Constitution that any particular Religion has been declared as the National Religion of Ghana.
As VRA Chief Executive, I found a simple solution. I allowed 1 min at the beginning and end of each meeting for everyone to offer their own silent prayer to their MAKER. Fortunately, it did not feature in the long list of “trumped-up” charges that were all “not proven’ but still led to my demise
I was born in the Gold Coast and started schooling four years into independent Ghana. In all that time I have seen and been part of a very tolerant society in which Ethnic and Religious tolerance has been pervasive that it is not deemed unusual for a Muslim to marry a Christian because of their love for each other, and for both to continue practicing their individual religions and faiths without rancour.
On a Continent where many nations have been ravaged and destroyed by Religious Intolerance, we in Ghana can ill –afford the shrill and unwanted call for this nation to be divided along the lines of Christians, Muslims, Ashantis, Ewes , NPP, NDC.
There is only one Ghana, the qualification for whose citizenships clearly stated in our 4the Republican constitution.
We tend to equate the notion of FUNDAMENTALISM automatically to the Muslim religion. Its extreme is found in BOKO-HARAM in Nigeria; AL-QAEDA & ISIL in the Middle East, etc. It is a touch unfortunate and most dangerous to our national cohesion that here in Ghana FUNDAMENTALISM in its most extreme manifestation is found in CHRISTIANITY
In Ghana, AL QAEDA is a popular song and dance form beloved by a; Ghanaians irrespective of age or faith. That is as it should remain.
Let us always remember that no matter how we try to cut it, ALL RELIGION is about THE TRIUMPH OF GOOD OVER EVIL. The character of specific Faiths and Doctrines is due solely to Human interventions at various times in history.
In the name of the Father, Son & Holy Ghost, I urge my Catholic Bishops move too quickly clarify and amend the statement attributed to them and to promote a Ghana founded on the principles and statutes of our Constitution.
Charles Wereko-Brobby (Dr)
A lapsed Catholic & Okomfo Anokye’s grandson.