First Filipino Monastery In Ghana
By Fr Joseph Panabang SVD
Archbishop Gregory E Kpiebaya of Tamale Archdiocese, Northern Ghana, flanked by two bishops and an archbishop emeritus, together with about sixty priests, sisters and religious, blessed and dedicated the first Filipino Carmelite church and monastery in Ghana on August 8, 2002, in a colorful ceremony flooded with lights and flashes from videos and cameras. From beginning to end, three groups of choristers kept the celebration on fire singing alternately hymns in English and in local languages to the rhythmic beating of drums and tambourines. The monastery is the first missionary foundation of Carmel in the Philippines and the first Carmelite monastery in Ghana.
The Monastic Life
Appropriately, before the Liturgy of the Word, the archbishop gave a brief catechesis on the monastic life focusing on the purpose of the monastery and on some rules in the Carmelite way of life. He stressed that the Discalced Carmelite monastery is cloistered, meaning that the nuns live inside until death. In a related aside he mentioned that some monks in Europe used to keep their own coffin in their cell and would sleep in it once in a while to remind themselves that one day they would go. At this, a storm of gasps came from the congregation who were unfamiliar with the monastic-contemplative life. And to bring the cow back to normal, the Archbishop Kpiebaya hastened to add that there are times when the nuns are allowed to go out. For example, in times of sickness, they can be brought to the hospital or a doctor can be called in. In case of fire they can also run for their lives. This drew laughter from the people for whom bush fires and houses or whole villages on fire are a common sight during the dry season.
As the Mass continued, there was a unique gospel procession. An older woman clad in local costume, accompanied by two younger women in similar dress, carried the lectionary on her head in a nicely decorated basket with plates and foodstuff symbolizing that the Word of God sustains life. Following them were children aged ten and below and at the end of the procession were teenagers, all in local costumes and singing ‘Alleluia,’ dancing and swaying, buoyed up every now and then by an almost deafening yet melodious drumming made more dramatic by an occasional peculiar high-pitched shrieking from a woman in the group. Ironically, despite the noise, a strange hush engulfed the jam-packed church. One could feel the importance of the Gospel.
Then came the incensing and anointing of the marble altar and of the walls of the magnificent cone-shaped church modeled after traditional houses.
Not to be outdone, the nuns too had their gimmick. They had placed plenty of special explosive incense in a pot at the center of the altar. One of them then rushed forward…lit the incense and …Boom! Then smoke billowed, just like an atomic bomb in miniature. This shocked everyone momentarily but filled the air with holy fragrance. Later Fr Victor Leones SVD, our veteran missionary in Ghana, joked, ‘I thought the nuns were leading a suicide attack.’
Finally, after almost four hours, the lively ceremony ended quietly. To thank the people, Sr Mary Bernard OCD, Prioress, came forward and gave a message from the heart, showing the sincerity that is one of the many virtues the Discalced Nuns of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mt Carmel are well-known for.
Congratulations to our Filipino Carmelite Nuns. We are proud of you! ‘You are Filipinos; you have tried well!’ as a Ghanian would say, paying the highest compliment. Pray for us, Sisters.