"We are able to laugh, we are able to dance, we are able to sing," says Bishop Gabriel Akwasi Abiabo Mante. "[It's] not that we deny the existence of bad situations, but as we sing, dance, and laugh, we always think of solutions to our problems."
The 63-year-old Ghana native made these observations in an interview with the television program "Where God Weeps" of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.
Q: Missionaries have said that Africa has to be evangelized by Africans. How advanced is the Church in Ghana in this regard?
Bishop Mante: I think in that regard, the Church in Ghana has gone far. The Ghanaian hierarchy, the bishops, the topmost leadership of the Church is Ghanaian and the majority of priests, about 80% or more, are Ghanaians. This does not mean, however, that we don’t need missionaries in Ghana. We still need them -- indeed, I’m inviting them now because my diocese is a young diocese.
Q: Did these missionaries influence the vocations you have?
Bishop Mante: Yes, they inspired us a lot by the way they went about their work. They were zealous, focused and very determined and, apart from that, they were close to our people. They would visit a typical village and go from house to house visiting the people. Their work was inspiring, also in terms of being sacrificial. If you compare -- even in those days -- they left their homes so far away to sleep in our sacristies, to sleep in thatched roof huts. It was very inspiring. Most of them ate our food. They identified with us. Their prayer life inspired us very much. I remember in those days before we went for Mass, the parish priest would come and pray the breviary around the church or recite the rosary. All these things inspired some of us and contributed to our childhood decisions to become priests. I got involved in the Church because my brother was a catechist and at a very early age he taught me how to conduct prayer services for when he or a priest was not around. I think that also helped inspire my vocation.
Q: What about your parents? Were they Catholic?
Bishop Mante: My mother was the first one to be baptized and then my father. I was not old enough to really know my father. He died when I was still a child. So, as far as the Catholic faith in our family, it was something we received from our mother. It was she who was baptized first, brought us up and never forced us to go to church, but somehow inspired all of us to go to church. We are now with the fourth generation that keeps the faith that we received from her.
Q: I would like to talk about African traditional religions. Are some of these traditions valued in the Catholic Church?
Bishop Mante: I would put it rather this way: They have some values, for instance, respect for parents, respect for elderly people, respect for authority, hard work, humility and all these things, and I must say, some kind of fear of God. Yes, the traditional religions had them and still have them, but the big difference is that these values in the traditional religions are inspired more by fear of being punished by the spirits than by a love for God, which inspires these values in the Catholic Churches and the Christian Churches. That is the big difference.
Q: Has the Catholic Church incorporated some of these traditions?
Bishop Mante: Yes, the biggest, which, I must say is not unique to the culture of Ghana but also to the whole continent, is the way we worship. We are very outgoing in our worship or self-expression. We have many gestures, singing, dancing, but also there are moments when we observe silence. That is one of the big things that has been incorporated. The other is the use of the local language. There are people who say: Now we are able to enjoy the liturgy because we are singing and praying in our own language.
Q: What is the position of women now in society? Do they have access to education?
Bishop Mante: The situation has completely changed in the last 30 years. There are more girls in school now than before. Women have achieved positions at the highest level on the national ladder. Many students in the universities and other institutions of higher learning are women. I must say, in a way, Ghana once again is blazing the trail in uplifting the image of women. The chief justice is a woman, and the speaker of Parliament is a woman. We have a Commission for Human Rights and the administrator of justice is also a woman. We had a new government in 2009 and the president has appointed about 10 women as ministers of cabinet. You still, however, find the situation of women in the rural areas difficult.
Q: In what way?
Bishop Mante: They carry the greatest burden of the household. They are the first to wake up in the morning usually by 4 A.M. and they are the last to go to bed at around 9 P.M.. They do the cooking, of course with the help of the children. They do the laundry and other household tasks. Food production is entirely the domain of the women. The men are involved in cash crops like coco and others, but anything to do with food production, the women are responsible.
Q: What problems do these women present to you when you visit them?
Bishop Mante: Occasionally when there is misunderstanding in the house and settling it within the family is ineffective, they then come to me. Some complain about their marital problems; the man is not helping and carrying his share of the responsibilities. These are some of the problems that I encounter and we are trying to reduce these problems. We have programs for the Catholic women's associations. We equip them with management skills to handle these situations. We have what we call Women and Development Projects, through which women can go, or they invite facilitators to come and educate them not only in life skills but also productive ventures.
Q: You have spoken out against corruption. Is it still prevalent?
Bishop Mante: I don’t think there has been any marked change since we issued our major statement on corruption in 1998. It is very widespread from top to bottom and from bottom to top. And some of the methods have been “polished." They have become sophisticated so that one needs very sharp eyes -- and we particularly need people at certain points to really witness and inform us -- to see that corruption has taken place. I won’t deny it; corruption is still a major factor to come to terms with in the Ghanaian society. It is still there. It has not been reduced. If anything at all, it has taken on different kinds of features with regards to the methods and avenues and it has gone deeper.
Q: What can the Catholic Church do?
Bishop Mante: Ten years ago we composed a prayer in a Catholic Church against bribery and corruption in Ghana, which we encouraged praying in the Church. I’m sorry to say that we have not kept up with praying this and it is recited only in a few places. Apart from that I don’t think we as a Church have taken any concrete and definite measures to counter corruption. We still talk about it. We condemn it, but in terms of concrete action, I think, very little if nothing at all is being done by the Church. I take responsibility for making the statement and I’m ready to stand by it.
Q: What can the Catholic Church of Ghana give to the universal Catholic Church?
Bishop Mante: Let me say, we bring our sense of endurance to the universal Catholic Church. It is not that we have been persecuted in the past but Ghana as a whole has gone through very difficult moments and in all these moments, the Church has always stood beside the Ghanaian people without compromising. I think that is one of the contributions to the Church and, apart from that, maybe our joy. On the west coast of Africa, Ghana is one country that is not experiencing any serious civil disturbance to the point of initiating division against one another and fighting like what is happening next door in Liberia and Sierra Leone etc., -- it is one of the few countries. We have had situations similar to those in Liberia or Sierra Leone, which could have degenerated into civil strife but I think Ghanaians, as I always say, know how to fight with our lips rather than with instruments of war. So I think our sense of endurance in the face of serious, real, provocative, conflict-bearing situations, but at the same time, in the midst of all of these, we are able to laugh, we are able to dance, we are able to sing; not that we deny the existence of bad situations, but as we sing, dance, and laugh, we always think of solutions to our problems.
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This interview was conducted by Marie-Pauline Meyer for "Where God Weeps," a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
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