This article is fourth in a series of articles about the religious life and customs of African Catholics in the United States, and how the Church might better serve their pastoral needs.
Information about Ghana
Ghana is in West Africa. It shares a border with the Ivory Coast to the West, Burkina Faso to the North, Togo to the East, and the Gulf of Guinea to the South. Ghana achieved independence from Britain on March 6, 1957.
The Portuguese were the first documented foreign explorers to arrive to the coast of West Africa in 1471 and subsequently gave it the colonial name "The Gold Coast" because of its gold deposits. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the British, the Danes, and the Dutch arrived at the "Gold Coast" respectively and established slave trading posts.
Ghana has many cultural and religious traditions, but paramount among all Ghanaians is the centrality of worship and celebration. There are rites of passage associated with each stage of life: puberty, engagement, marriage, birth, naming or ‘outdooming', funerals, burials, and memorials.
There are 18 dioceses in Ghana: Accra, Cape Coast, Damongo, Goaso, Ho, Jasikan, Keta-Akatsi, Koforidua, Konongo-Mampong, Kumasi, Navronga-Bolgatanga, Obuasi, Sekondi-Takoradi, Synyani, Tamale, Damongo, Wioso, and the diocese of Wa.
Among the hallmarks of Catholic worship are Good Friday, Stations of the Cross, the Easter celebrations, the Feast of Corpus Christi, and the Holy Rosary in October. Baptisms, Reception of First Holy Communion and Confirmation are hallmarks in the journey of faith. Marriages are community and Church celebrations; Ordinations are diocesan-wide events, and Christmas and Easter and the antecedent seasons—Advent and Lent—are monumental undertakings. Finally, funerals, as sad as they are, are always communal celebrations of the gift of life.
A culture based on family ties seeks commonality as opposed to division. The Ghanaian culture always welcomes people. In addition, one can always return home. It is imperative that the head of the household welcome you home just as the Father welcomed the son that was lost but was found, who was thought to be dead but returned home alive. You know you are home when you hear "Akwaaba" – Welcome! May all that is good, beautiful, and eternal be God's gift to all who welcome the stranger!
Ghanaian Migration to the United States
A few Ghanaians in the first half of the 20th Century began the migration to the United States. Many Ghanaians came to the United States in the 1970s, but most came in the 1980s during the military regime in Ghana. From the 1980s to the present, the number of Ghanaians in the U.S. has tripled. Ghanaians have settled all over the United States. For example, there are over 4,000 Ghanaians in Hartford, and over 10,000 Ghanaians in each of the following areas: New York/New Jersey, Boston/Worcester/Lowell, Chicago, and Texas.
Ghanaian American Catholics – Their Gifts and Challenges
The gift that Ghanaians have brought to the Catholic Church in the United States is worshiping as Africans, that is, with full participation of mind, soul, and body.
The values most important to Ghanaians are hospitality and a welcoming environment. Some of the challenges Ghanaians face in becoming part of the faithful in the U.S. Catholic Church are dealing with a different language and sometimes facing indifference from Americans.
Outreaching to Ghanaians
Understanding the Ghanaians better is a helpful way to more effectively welcome and integrate them into the society and Church of the United States. Ghanaians want to be themselves; they want to be spiritually motivated. They desire to worship with their whole being: mind, heart, soul, and body.
We still need more information to answer the following 8 questions:
- When did the Ghanaians start migration to the U.S.?
- Where are the Ghanaian communities here? In what cities? In what States?
- How many Ghanaian immigrants/communities are there?
- What gifts have the Ghanaians brought to the Catholic Church in the U.S.?
- What celebrations and unique practices have they brought?
- What values are important to Ghanaian Catholics?
- What challenges do they face in becoming part of the faithful in the U.S. Catholic Church?
- Suggest culturally appropriate ways to more effectively welcome and integrate Ghanaians into the society and Church in the U.S.