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Exploring the Asante Interest in the Catholic Church

 Exploring the Asante Interest in the Catholic Church

On Saturday, June 12, 2021, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, Asantehene, attended the 25th Anniversary of the Erection of the Diocese and Episcopacy of Most Rev. Joseph Osei-Bonsu, Catholic Bishop of Konongo-Mampong.

Three days ago, St. Stephen’s Catholic Chapel, Juaben was dedicated to Most Rev. Joseph Osei-Bonsu (Catholic Bishop of Konongo-Mampong.
Diocese) built by Nana Otuo Sereboe II (Omanhene of Juaben) to commemorate his 76TH birthday and 50TH anniversary enstoolment as the Omanhene of Juaben

As I read these updates, I kept wondering; “Is there any special reason why we Asantes have special interest in the Catholic Church?” I did some findings and I trust that like me, you will find this write up interesting…

Though Catholic Portugal was the first to step foot in Gold Coast, in1482. Catholicism was the last of the historic churches to get fully established.
The story of the killings of the monks by Komenda and Oguafo and the “Fetish Saint Anthony,” the first attempt to establish Catholicism in the Gold Coast is well known.

After the first attempt, the Catholics did not attempt to send anymore missionaries to the Gold Coast until some 250 years later.

But would Fr Auguete Moreau and Fr Eugene Murat, both French nationals, the first missionaries in 1880, have succeeded without the “God-sent” John Ashanti?

WHO WAS JOHN ASHANTI?
In 1873, the disastrous policies of the warmonger, Asantehene Nana Kofi Karikari, had brought Asante in direct collision with the British and their coastal allies.

Prior to the final show down with Sir Garnet’s army a year later, Asante and Britsh-Fante allies clashed at Abakrampa, 10 miles north of Cape Coast.
According to Sir James Marshall; a catholic British judge who was a witness to the battle, a young boy ran from the ranks of the Asante army towards the Allies before a single shot was even fired. The boy, a Fante slave of an Asante chief, had taken advantage of the battle to run for freedom.

The Judge, Sir James Marshall adopted the boy and named him “John Ashanti.” John Ashanti accompained Sir James Marshall to Lagos when the Judge was transfered.

In Nigeria, Sir James Marshall sent John Ashanti to a Catholic school where he learnt to read and write and to assist in missionary works and catechism. After baptism, John Ashanti adopted the christian name James Gordon-
“James” being the judge’s first name and “Gordon,” captain of the Britsh-coastal forces

When Fr Auguete Moreau and Fr Eugene Murat arrived at Elimina seven years later to start the first modern Catholic missionary work in the Gold Coast, John Ashanti was ready waiting.

MENSAH BONSU II and FR MOREAU.
In 1882, 34 year old Fr Auguete Moreau, was the first catholic priest to visit Asante. Fr Eugene Murat 33, died within six months in the Gold Coast.

Two years after his arrival and after several attempts, Fr Auguete Moreau was on his way to Kumasi.
For in 1882, Asantehene Mensah Bonsu was not a “happy camper.” Travelling to and from Asante had been severely restricted-after the Sagranti War.
One needed a special visa to enter Asante.
Nor was the King in the mood to recieve a new and a foreign God. Asantehene, then was already in a vigorious struggle with the Anokye inspired ‘Odomankoma cult.’

Nana Boakye Tenten, an Asante royal and a resident at Cape Coast who had befriended Fr Auguete Moreau, promised to get him an audience with Mensah Bonsu II(Asantehene). The King gave his consent.

Even today, a white man in Africa is still a novelty. So you can imagine Fr Auguete Moreau’s journey to Kumasi and the buzz it created then.

After a public reception, Fr Auguete Moreau was granted a private audience with Mensah Bonsu II.

Fr Auguete Moreau laid out his plan to establish a mission in Kumasi, to which Asantehene agreed.
But Asantehene said, “he was still rebiulding his capital which had been burnt down by the White man 8 years ago”. Therefore Fr. Auguete Moreau was to return to the coast as Asantehene looked for the appropriate land for his mission.

Fr Auguete Moreau returned to the Coast elated.
But he had been outmaneuvered. Asantehene’s ready consent was just a ploy to get rid off him politely and quickly.

When Fr Auguete Moreau died four years after his visit to Kumasi, Asantehene had still not granted the Catholics the land they requested.

THE HEAD of JOHN BILNER
In 1895, Yellow Fever swept through the Gold Coast killing a lot of whitemen-“Whiteman’s Grave.”

At the same time, the British were preparing an expeditionary force for Kumasi.

Among the reasons for British invasion of Asante in 1896 was to put an end to the practice of Human sacrifice.
The ostensible reason for the invasion, however, was to force Asante to pay 60,000 ounces of gold for war indemnity-levied by Sir Garnet.

The real reason, though, for the invasion was the explicit “scramble for Africa” motive-as the French were getting ready to lay claim to Asante which then had no imperial masters.

Among the British expeditionary forces for the invasion of Kumasi were Catholics.
So a request was sent to the Catholic mission to send a priest to accompany the army to Kumasi.
Fr Wade, the appointed chaplain-after so many yellow fever deaths- decided to accompany the army. And Fr Wade was very fimiliar with the then popular story of John Bilner.

John Bilner of Kormantine was about to be sacrificed with other prisoners in Kumasi.
In state sat Nana Agyeman Prempeh I,
when it got to his turn, Bilner personally asked Asantehene to allow his hands to be untied so he could pray to his god before his death.
Asantehene consented.

After praying, Bilner made the sign of the cross which caught the King’s attention-for the King thought he had seen it somewhere before. Asantehene asked to explain, Bilner told the King that he had been taught the sign by Fr Auguete Moreau who was dead then.
The King, who was a child during Fr Auguete Moreau’s time in Kumasi, fully recollected the visit and as a result, pardoned Bilner-for Fr Auguete Moreau’s sake.

Bilner was taken to the Pra river and released into the Gold Coast.

This “miracle,” which became famous in the Gold Coast, cast Asantehene Nana Agyeman Prempeh as a more sober King-unlike his two main predecessors.
But at the same time, it highlighted the Holy practice of human sacrifice in Asante and reenforced the zeal of the invasion force.

The British ’ kidnapping of Nana Prempeh I and host of chiefs and queenmothers and the subsequent imprisonment at Elimina, Sierra Leone and then to the Seychelles is well known.

Suffice to say that when Fr Wade got to Kumasi, the first thing he did was to go pray at the main spot where victims had been sacrificed for over 200 years-like Cortez at the Aztec temple.
He then asked the British Governor-who was now the new “King of Asante”- to grant the Catholics land to start a mission.

Afterwards, Fr Wade left Kumasi for the Coast with the “Royal prisoners” -on the way to exile.

ZONGO HILL-EXILE YEARS
With Asante finally in imperial hands, Bishop Klaus was the next Catholic to vist Kumasi in 1905.
Then the Catholic service was being held at present day Kingsway(Poku Trading) under the stewardwardship of Nana Akwasi Atta, a nephew of Nana Boakye Tenten-who had introdunced Fr Auguete Moreau to Nana Mensah Bonsu II in 1882.
The small congretation asked for a resident priest.

Unfortunately, Bishop Klaus also dug his grave in Africa within six months of arrival.

So it had to take his successor, Bishop Hummels, to sign a deed in 1908 for a land at Zongo Hill.

The first Catholic mission was therefore established, officially, 30 years after Fr Auguete Moreau’s visit with Fr Matthew as first resident priest.

In 1927, the mission in Kumasi started work on the church which was christened: St Peters Cathedral after its completion in 1929.

Zongo Hill was also named: “Roman Hill”.

The Apostolic Vicariate of Kumasi came into existence when the Ashanti and Brong Ahafo Regions were separated from the Vicariate Apostolic of the Gold Coast on 27th January, 1932.

The first Apostolic Vicar of Kumasi was His Lordship Rt. Rev. Hubert Paulissen, SMA, who was consecrated a Bishop in Maastricht, The Netherlands, on 11th February 1933. He arrived in Kumasi on 19th May 1933 and was made Bishop of Kumasi until December 31, 1951, when he resigned on account of ill health.

POPE PIUS XII ADDRESSES AFRICA IN KUMASI.
In 32 years, the Ashanti Catholic mission became independent of Cape Coast after missions in Obuasi, Bekwai, Berekum, Juaso and Konongo had been established.

A year later, Bishop Hubert Paulissen became the first Bishop of Asante.

In 1950, the Catholic mission in the Gold Coast seized being just a ward of the church.
70 years after Fr Auguete Moreau restarted the mission, the Gold Coast church was “incorporated as an Ecclesiastical Province of the Universal Church.”

However, a year later, the first Eucharist Congress for the new “Ecclestiastical Province” was held in Kumasi. It was the biggest catholic congress yet organized in West Africa.

A seven day event, the Kumasi Race Course served as the grounds for mass congress events where a huge alter had been erected with processions through Kumasi streets by catholic groups, religious films at cinemas, floats and many more.

With Archbishop Matthew, Papal Legate, as the Pope’s representative, the Congress was attended by over 25 Archbishops, bishops and prefects and over two hundred priests from West Africa-with a daily attendance of over ten thousand for mass at the Race Course.

On the last day of the Congress, with the race course packed to capacity, Pope Pius XII addresseed the faithful, life, from Rome through the loud speakers mounted at grounds,the first time in history that a Pope had spoken directly to Africa.

In all, over two hundred thousand people were reported to have attended Congress.
(Kindly note: the first baptism in the Apostolic Vicariate of Kumasi was administered in Obuasi on 4th June, 1905 by Rev. Jean Ogé, SMA, also he administered the first baptism in Kumasi on 11th June, 1905. Three people were baptized on that day.)

In February 1908 under its first Headmaster, Mr. McCarthy, the first Catholic School was established in Kumasi.This school was situated on the old premises of Mr. Simon David Karam.

Rev. Fr. Alfred Laurent, SMA from France, is considered to have been the first resident priest in Kumasi. In the beginning he resided for some time in Maame Dentaa’s house (O.B. 457). Maame Dentaa later changed her name to Mary Magdalene Fosuaa after she was baptized.

On 25th February 1910, Fr. Laurent started to build the Mission House on the present site (St. Peter’s Cathedral – Kumasi). However, on Easter Sunday, 25th April, 1943 the first Asante Priest, Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Tawiah-Yesereh, was ordained.

Also, the first indigenous Bishop of the Diocese was elected on 24th February, 1962. His Lordship Bishop Joseph Amihere Essuah was consecrated Bishop of Kumasi in St. Peter’s Cathedral on 17th July, 1962.
Seven years later, Rt. Rev. Peter Kwasi Sarpong was elected as Bishop of Kumasi on 20th November, 1969 and
was consecrated Bishop of Kumasi in St. Peter’s Cathedral on March 8, 1970.

Also on May 9, 1980, Pope John Paul II visited Kumase(Manhyia) and celebrated the Holy Eucharist at the Kumasi Sports Stadium for a packed audience from Ashanti, Brong Ahafo and Northern Regions.

On 3rd March, 1995, Obuasi and Konongo-Mampong Dioceses were carved out from Kumasi Diocese.

In 2002, Most Rev. George Kocherry, Apostolic Nuncio to Ghana, made the official announcement of the elevation of the church of Kumasi to a Metropolitan See, with Sunyani, Goaso, Konongo-Mampong and Obuasi as Suffragan Dioceses and St. Peter’s Cathedral was made Basilica, June 29, 2004

The church officially Inaugurated its 30th Anniversary of the Catholic Archdiocese of Kumasi on the 26 june 2011.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Kumasi, over the years has envisioned a Eucharistic Community for holistic selfless service to God and humanity Evangelization.

To me, the Catholic church has proclaimed the Good News by building on diligent formation of Christ’s Faithful and has consciously learnt from Scriptures and Tradition(culture).
The church has also courageously addressed issues of today and proactively anticipated our spiritual, human and material developments with biblical values as guide. No wonder their schools and hospitals are among the best facilities in the country.

Nananom ne Mpaninfoɔ this is how we end today’s history. I hope you have enjoyed this write up.
I am a proud Asante, a proud practicing Catholic and a proud Marshallan.

Piawwwww!

By: Opanin Frimpong Kwadwo

REFERENCES:

Reminiscences of West Africa and its missions. By Sir James Marshall, MA, BL, CMG, KCSG.

http://www.kumasicatholic.org

Akwasi A Afrifa Akoto @2021(John Asante and Catholicism in Asante)

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