SUNYANI, GHANA – While more than 5,000 miles may separate the Dioceses of Scranton and Sunyani geographically, the two communities continue to grow closer in learning about one another and sharing their culture and faith.
The Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, along with Father Gerald W. Shantillo, Vicar General, and Father Brian J.T. Clarke, Diocesan Director of Pontifical Mission Societies, just completed a week-long pastoral visit to Sunyani. The trio departed the United States on Aug. 10, 2022 and will be returning Friday, Aug. 19.
“It has been an incredible experience,” Bishop Bambera said in regards to the visit. “We were made to feel so welcome.”
Throughout the pastoral visit, Bishop Bambera has been documenting his experiences and sharing regular updates on the Diocese of Scranton’s social media platforms. An archive of photos and videos that the bishop has posted is also available on the Diocese of Scranton website.
“Pope Francis often says the church is most alive in Africa. That has been our experience and we in Scranton are so blessed to have experienced this and to have the good blessing of eight priests from the Diocese of Sunyani to serve in our parishes,” Bishop Bambera said during one of the videos he shared.
CELEBRATING THE FEAST OF THE ASSUMPTION
Bishop Bambera’s pastoral visit to Sunyani was planned to coincide with the Diocese of Sunyani’s annual four-day celebration of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The event brings roughly 15,000 people to Mary Queen of Peace Grotto each year.
Every parish in the Diocese of Sunyani sends parishioners to participate in the pilgrimage. The faithful participate in Morning Devotions, listen to testimonies and talks, celebrate Mass, recite the Rosary and enjoy each other’s company.
Bishop Bambera presided at the Closing Mass of the four-day celebration on Sunday, Aug. 14, 2022.
“I was touched by the enthusiasm of the faithful, by their desire to express their faith, by the richness of their involvement in the liturgy and by their generous spirit and the beautiful procession of gifts when they brought food for the poor,” Bishop Bambera said.
The Diocese of Sunyani is home to more than 200,000 baptized Catholics. In 2023, the Diocese will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
The Most Rev. Matthew Kwasi Gyamfi, who is currently serving as Bishop of Sunyani, is only the second bishop in the history of the Diocese. He was appointed bishop in 2003 after the death of Bishop James Kwadwo Owusu.
Bishop Matthew called the pastoral visit for Scranton’s delegation “extraordinary.”
“People are so excited to have them,” Bishop Matthew said. “We thank the people of the Diocese of Scranton for permitting the bishop to come and join us. We are extremely grateful!”
SAYING THANK YOU
One of the many reasons why Bishop Bambera, Father Shantillo and Father Clarke wanted to travel to Sunyani is to express gratitude for the incredible generosity that Sunyani has provided Scranton in terms of its priestly resources.
Over the last four years, ten priests from the Diocese of Sunyani have travelled abroad to serve in the Diocese of Scranton. There are currently eight serving here right now.
“It really means a great deal for me, on behalf of the clergy and the faithful of our Diocese, to go the Diocese of Sunyani and share with their bishop and with all of their people, our deep gratitude for their presence here,” Bishop Bambera explained. “It is a sacrifice to travel halfway around the world and to live in a land that you don’t necessarily understand and know as well as you own home.”
While in Ghana, the Diocese of Scranton delegation was especially grateful to have dinner with the parents of the priests who are working the Diocese of Scranton.
Throughout the course of the week-long visit, Bishop Matthew highlighted to his own people the good work that the Pontifical Mission Societies do. In reality, Bishop Matthew helped showcase the fact that as the People of God we all serve one another.
“Our churches and our faith is much, much bigger than simply our corner of the world that we know as the Diocese of Scranton,” Bishop Bambera added. “We join with brothers and sisters around the world, hands across the Atlantic Ocean now, to the Diocese of Sunyani.”
LEARNING AND SHARING
The Diocese of Sunyani is roughly 7,500 square miles. By size, that means it is a little smaller than the size of Scranton, which is roughly 8,800 square miles.
Throughout their week overseas, Bishop Bambera, Father Shantillo and Father Clarke had the opportunity to tour schools, a seminary, clinics and other various institutions.
On Monday, Aug. 15, the trio celebrated Mass at Saint James Seminary, a high school seminary, which has 900 students. Roughly 200 of those students are in the seminary formation program.
“It was a great opportunity to listen to their incredible voices singing and praising God,” Bishop Bambera noted.
The group also toured a sewing factory that makes religious vestments and school uniforms that is sponsored by the Diocese of Sunyani.
“What is so amazing about that is it started with a donation of three industrial sewing machines that were given to one of the priests of Sunyani several years ago and it has grown into an incredible industry,” Bishop Bambera explained. “It trains women to learn the craft of sewing that enables them to find jobs in that factory and elsewhere to start their businesses.”
While there was so much joy and inspiration on the pastoral visit, the Diocesan delegation also took time to mark a dark period in the history of Ghana.
On the second day of their visit, as they were traveling from Ghana’s capital city of Accra to Sunyani, the group stopped at Cape Coast Castle. The castle is one of dozens of “slave castles” built on the Gold Coast of Africa by European traders. Originally established for the gold/mineral trade, they eventually because used to hold slaves before they were put on ships and sold in the Americas.
“It was a reminder to us of the need for us to work against injustice in any way that we can, to bring an end, finally once and for all, to racism and discrimination,” Bishop Bambera said following his visit.
The final Mass that Bishop Bambera celebrated in Ghana was with young people of Sunyani on Wednesday, Aug. 17. He encouraged the young people to continue bringing Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness to the world in which they live.
“Stand up against intolerance and hatred, show the world by your example that we are all brothers and sisters,” he said. “Break down barriers of selfishness, protect this wonderful creation that we’ve been given, respect it, treasure it, and serve the poorest in our midst!”