Friday would be my last day with “#Ghanapilgrim13,” the pilgrimage to Ghana sponsored by Episcopal Relief and Development. I would visit the notorious Cape Coast Castle, then St. Nicholas Seminary in Cape Coast, and then get in a car for the Accra airport. It had been a long week, long but also holy, and immensely gratifying.
Though Cape Coast was similar to Elmina, the dramatic effect of being there was not diminished. We visited squalid dungeons again, many more of them at Cape Coast than at Elmina. We heard the wrenching stories. We also saw the memorial of the first African to be ordained in the Church of England, Philip Quaque (1741-1816). At Cape Coast Castle, we were guided by a man who was as capable as our guide at Elmina Castle. We saw there a recent plaque, commemorating the visit of President and Mrs. Barak Obama in 2009.
Much of my reaction and reflection at Cape Coast was similar to me reflection at Elmina. Rather than repeat those words, I refer you to yesterday’s notes (see my 25 July entry here).
As I said yesterday, and at Elmina itself, one must be careful with words at these sacred places. Words simply fail to contain the horror, and the evil, and the sheer ignorance of what transpired at those two castles. Again, however, I must declare that I found the places holy. This is a pilgrimage for me, and I am seeking the Holy. Indeed, I am seeking God. I cannot describe how God was at Elmina and Cape Coast. Except that God was present in the witnesses and martyrs there. God was present in the suffering. Again, as I said yesterday: if God is not present in suffering, then God is not present anywhere. God is there, in the memories of suffering at Elmina and Cape Coast Castles.
From Cape Coast Castle, we drove a short distance to St. Nicholas Seminary at Cape Coast, the Anglican seminary for Ghana. Established in 1975, it is the only active seminary of the Anglican Church in the Province of West Africa. I was delighted to be there, and even more delighted to see my old friend, the dean, the Very Reverend Victor Atta-Baffoe. What a gracious and delightful man he is.
We pilgrims shared Eucharist together, in the chapel of St. Nicholas Seminary, with its beautiful crucifix above the altar. The Reverend Gay Jennings celebrated, and she invited us to share brief reflections in lieu of any formal sermon. Most of us did, expressing appreciation and gratitude to Ghana, to our hosts, to our leaders, and, indeed, to one another.
From the seminary, our group split up. For me, it was the end of my time with these fellow pilgrims. Alex Baumgarten, Bill Miller, and I were scheduled to fly from Accra on Friday night, while the rest would fly back on Saturday. They took a leisurely lunch back at the Elmina hotel, while Alex, Bill, and I got in a car for the three hour drive back to the Accra Airport. Trusting our wonderful driver, Emmanuel, we made it in plenty of time.
Then, when I landed back in Atlanta, via JFK in New York and via the Accra airport, my pilgrimage was over. In just under 24 hours, I traveled successfully from the crowded roads of Ghana to the crowded streets of Atlanta.
In conclusion, I give thanks for this Ghana pilgrimage. I thank Gay Jennings for the invitation, I thank Rob Radtke and the excellent staff at Episcopal Relief and Development for their guidance, and I thank Bishop Jacob Ayeebo and the ADDRO staff for their happy and beautiful hospitality. I especially thank my fellow pilgrims; what a holy and responsible group! I found God in the souls of my fellow pilgrims to Ghana.
Finally, I thank the people of Ghana. Thank you for letting me come into your homes, ride on your roads, sense your ministries, and hear your needs. Thank you, too, for letting me enter something of your history. I will remember your joy and your pain, your generosity and your need.
Bishop Jacob prayed several times in his own language during our time there. Of course, I could not tell what he was saying literally, though I felt it spiritually. He did seem to use one word repeatedly, a word that sounded like “berakah.” I asked him later what it meant, because it sounded much like the Hebrew word, “berakah.” He said it meant thanksgiving, just as I suspected, and just as the Hebrew means. Blessing and thanksgiving.
Yes. The people of Ghana have blessed me. The experience of Ghana has blessed me. They have blessed me with thanksgiving and with joy. I hope, now, to bless them. I hope to turn their blessing of me into a blessing to others. Berakah. Thank you. May God bless Ghana, and may God bless us.