294 pp. The Columba Press. To purchase this book online, go to www.columba.ie
The author gives an account of his visits to missionary countries on all the continents over a period of half a century. He offers vivid reports [...]
294 pp. The Columba Press. To purchase this book online, go to www.columba.ie
The author gives an account of his visits to missionary countries on all the continents over a period of half a century. He offers vivid reports on a world which most people know of only vaguely. The devotion and dedication of missionaries come across forcefully. There are richly descriptive passages on the sights, sounds and smells in the places he visited. There is also a lightness of touch and humour to enlighten this odyssey literally to the ends of the earth.
Fr Enda Watters C.S.Sp. entered the Holy Ghost (Spiritan) Congregation in 1941. He studied at Kimmage Manor, UCD, the Ecumenical Institute and Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem and the Catholic Theological Union, Chicago. He was editor of Missionary Annals and a retreat preacher (1953-63). He visited missions in Africa as editor in 1958-59. He was a pioneer missionary in Brazil (1963-73), Vice-Provincial and Provincial Bursar, Ireland (1973-76), Provincial Superior, Ireland (1976-82) and General Counsellor, Rome 0982-86). He was Executive Secretary, Irish Missionary Union (1987-92), on the Academic Council of the Irish School of Ecumenics (1979-82) and a member of the Board of APSO (1989-93). He has been a hospital chaplain since 1992.
The Gambia 1958
Sierra Leone 1958
Christ’s Homeland 1972-73
India December 1985
Papua New Guinea 1976
Papua New Guinea, The Gulf 1983
South Africa 1980
The Philippines 1983
My first appointment as a Holy Ghost priest was to its Promotions Team as editor of the Missionary Annals (later called Outlook). It was through the magazine that many people first came to know about the Holy Ghost Congregation, later called the Spiritans, and through it the germ of missionary vocation was sown in the minds of some young men and women.
I soon found that persuading our missionaries to write about their apostolate and provide photographs to illustrate articles was a difficult task and I needed new material every month. I tried writing to them in their missions or meeting them when they arrived home on vacation with the purpose of persuading them to write. Some refused because they said that they did not want ‘to project’ themselves! Others simply said they could not write.
Having experienced this frustrating situation for several years, I decided to ask my Provincial, Fr Tim O’Driscoll, for permission to go to Africa. He advised me to write to the Superior General of the Congregation in Rome, outlining my proposal and he said that he himself would also write supporting my request. The answer from the Superior General was favourable and I was given six months to visit our missions.
My next challenge was to outline the contents of the six issues of the Missionary Annals to be published during my absence and to have a confrere responsible for the rest of the work in my absence. By the end of several months of hard work, I had organised a very successful raffle targetting the farming community all over Ireland which brought in £7,500 to our Promotions Unit and this smoothed the way to cover my travel expenses! A very efficient and interested Aer Lingus official booked an itinerary covering eleven countries at the incredibly low cost of £217. I was finally ready to travel in October 1958, equipped with a camera and some small spiral-bound notebooks.
The reader may well ask what took me to so many far-flung parts of the world. When I set off as editor of our periodical, I could not have foreseen that the journey was to be the first of many that would take me to missionary countries on six continents over the following fifty years. Subsequent journeys would be undertaken because of my function as Provincial of the Irish Province or later as a member of the General Council of the Congregation. I also took on some travel assignments as Secretary of the Irish Missionary Union and I represented the Conference of Major Religious Superiors (now CORI) at a meeting in Chile of the Inter-American Conference of Religious.
As a student I had read, and was fascinated by, the travel books of John Gunther, H. V. Morton, Halliday Sutherland and others. This opportunity to combine travel and work as editor was a pleasing one. From the start I decided that while writing my reports I would not ‘neglect the scenery’. My purpose was not to write about myself but about the work of my confreres and other missionaries I would meet. And by writing, I might hopefully give readers some idea of the loneliness, homesickness, pressures and frustrations of missionary life as well as its joys and successes.
When I became a hospital chaplain in Dublin many years later, I dug out my notebooks, shook the dust from them and began to write. As I was a full-time chaplain I had to snatch moments of free time here and there to write and I was obliged to interrupt that task entirely when I was asked to edit a history of the Irish Province of the Congregation. That project took three years during which time I used excerpts from my notebooks to do broadcasts on such RTE programmes as Outlook, The Living Word and Sunday Miscellany. Encouraged by confreres and friends I decided to resume writing when the history, Go Teach All Nations, was finally published. With the approaching 150th anniversary of the arrival in Ireland of the first Holy Ghost Fathers, it was suggested to me that these memoirs might be included among a number of publications commemorating the occasion.
Many things have changed in ecclesiastical and political affairs in Africa and elsewhere since I put pen to paper in my first notebook in Senegal more than a half-century ago. In this memoir I write of what I saw and experienced at a particular moment in time and describe situations as they were then. I am conscious that seminal events, such as the gaining of independence in African countries and Vatican II in the Catholic Church, brought about developments that are beyond the scope of this book and that some of the terminology and language has changed over the years. The experience described in the chapter ‘Christ’s Homeland’, when I was exposed to a year in Jerusalem studying the theme ‘Salvation Today’, gave me an understanding and respect for ecumenism and indigenous and world religions that I had previously lacked. However, it is not my aim, nor am I competent, to discuss political and theological issues here.
The French writer, Michel Montaigne, expresses my feelings better than I could myself with his words that I make my own:
In this book I have only made up a bunch of other men’s flowers, providing of my own only the string that ties them together.
There are many routes by which one can travel to West Africa. I chose to fly, via London and Lisbon, to Dakar. A warm evening in October 1958 found me in a Lisbon taxi en route for the airport. What I had seen of the Portuguese capital and its people left me with pleasant memories. There was, for instance, the magnificent Mosteiro do Jeronimos with its beautiful marble cloister. In the Museum of Coaches we had seen the finest collection of royal coaches in the world. According to the guide it took 18 months for one of them to travel from Rome to Lisbon and 500 horses were used during the journey. And here I was in Lisbon with every prospect of being in West Africa next morning!
Waiting at the modern and highly efficient airport was a friend who had arranged to travel with me as far as the Gambia. He was Alec Tarbett, the West African representative of Cahill & Co, the Dublin printer. Their press did a great volume of printing for the Catholic missions in Africa and printed in 40 African languages. Hundreds of thousands of Africans have learned the fundamental truths of the faith from catechisms and prayer-books printed beside the leisurely Liffey at Kingsbridge.
0n the Way
Our plane, a Pan Air Brazil Constellation bound for Rio de Janeiro, took off at 9.50 pm; most of the passengers were South Americans. I had not previously realised that Dakar was a crossroads for sea and air travel between Europe and South America. Built on a triangular peninsula jutting into the Atlantic, it is the most western of all African cities. Lying about 1,800 miles from Brazil and about the same distance from Gibraltar it is much further west than Ireland.
As we chatted for a while before settling down to get some sleep, we saw a South American woman near us saying her Rosary without interruption and with great devotion. Whenever either Alec or I woke during the all-night flight we observed her still praying earnestly. It was not until the plane landed safely at Dakar airport as dawn was breaking that she blessed herself wearily and put her beads into her handbag. I wonder how many Rosaries she said that night?
It was still dark as we descended from the plane at 6 am. Inside the plane the temperature had been pleasant, but now what a difference! Even though the first signs of sunrise were just appearing on the horizon, the heat rose up from the runway to meet us. The atmosphere smelt and felt like a blast from a furnace.
As we approached the Customs counter, sleepy African officials and porters bestirred themselves, speaking fluently in French. Looking back now it appears to me that they spoke French better than their counterparts, whom I met later in British Africa, spoke English. Of course every African in French possessions was a French citizen with rights equal to those of any Frenchman.
The airport was about 16 miles from Dakar itself, but beside it there was a very fine hotel, the N’gor, where Pan Air Brazil accommodated us until we could get a connection for Bathurst. The hotel, an eight-storey building overlooking the sea, housed an ever-changing cross-section of humanity drawn from every quarter of the globe.
After a short rest we paid our first visit to Dakar itself. The road from the N’gor was flat, straight and smooth and there was no sign of the ‘bush’ one meets everywhere further down the coast. But then, this is semi-desert. Dakar was a rapidly extending city growing towards the interior at the rate of half-a-mile a year, and the population had doubled in the last ten years. It was called ‘the boomingest boom town in Africa’. More than 3,000 ships entered the harbour every year. In the event of war it was an essential American-European base, and if the Mediterranean should be closed this African port would control routes to South Africa, the Middle East, India and Australia. The last war did much to make Dakar the city it is today. It was whispered that it had been fitted out to be the capital of France should that country be defeated in World War II.
The city centre was something of a surprise. The shops and offices – some of them 15-storey, concrete and glass buildings – were as tine as in any European city with a similar population (275,000). The prices we saw in the shop windows were up to three times the prices of things in Ireland, and, judging by them, the French cars which filled the noisy streets must have cost their owners a pretty penny (or the equivalent in French West African francs).
Passing from the French-style city centre to the native city of Medina was like going from one continent to another. This was really Africa, with its bewildering diversity of tribes, dress, customs and languages. French West Africa was one of the greatest geographical entities in the world. It stretched from the frontiers of Morocco to Nigeria, from the Atlantic to the end of the Sahara – an area half the size of Europe. Even a stranger cannot but notice the striking differences in feature and size of the people. The bearded Mauretanians – I met them later in the Gambia – are particularly ‘different’ by reason of their European physiognomy, their long hair, their flowing white robes and spear-like staffs. Their womenfolk wear purple blue gowns and most elaborate head-dresses. The Mauretanians are of Moorish descent and one rarely meets a Catholic amongst them.
The Wolofs, who also inhabit a large part of the Gambia, are a remarkably handsome and charming people. The graceful Wolof women, renowned for beautiful clothes and gold ornaments, have made Dakar the undisputed fashion capital of West Africa.
Muslims, turbaned and dressed in long colourful robes, were in evidence on all sides. Many of them wore little leather pouches containing texts from the Koran suspended around their necks. There were quite a lot of people begging (some of them blind) in the streets as it was Friday – a day on which Muslims give alms. As we passed the imposing mosque we could see kneeling and prostrate figures at prayer inside.
Our purpose was to visit Dakar’s famous cathedral and there was no difficulty in finding it. It dominates that area of the city and turns one’s thoughts to the heroic Holy Ghost Fathers who brought the faith to Senegal. In 1846 the Venerable Father Libermann sent Bishop Truttet and seven other members of the congregation to Dakar. In a letter to Europe asking for prayers for the venture, the bishop reveals the dispositions that animated these intrepid pioneers:
‘God has given the negro race to the Immaculate Heart of Mary in order that his abandoned people may receive the effusion of the apostolic treasures which, at Pentecost, have been deposited in the heart of the Mother of Jesus. Cape Verde is the extreme point to which Mohammedanism has extended in the West; it is from there that it shall commence its retrograde movement towards Arabia, which shall become its grave as it was its cradle’.
The opposite has happened!
Less than seven months after he landed on African soil this zealous bishop died. Three of the ecclesiastical superiors who succeeded him were drowned. With the last of the ill-fated trio, Bishop Jalabert, CSSp, eighteen Holy Ghost missionaries were drowned in the shipwreck of the Afrique in 1920. It is a moving experience to walk on ground where the church was established at the price of such sacrifice. The cathedral itself is the fruit of Bishop Jalabert’s initiative and the result of the tireless labours of the Blessed Father Daniel Brottier, CSSp. The idea was first conceived during conversations the bishop had with the Governor General of French West Africa. The Governor General agreed that a memorial honouring all Frenchmen whose bodies lie buried in unnamed graves throughout Africa would have a strong national appeal. The bishop nominated Father Brottier to organise an African memorial fund. Despite the interruption caused by World War I, and notwithstanding the fact that from 1923 he was Director of the Auteuil Institute in France, Father Brottier continued his unflagging efforts to raise funds for the memorial. In 1922 the foundation stone was laid on the site of Dakar’s old cemetery where Fr Libermann’s first spiritual sons were buried. The magnificent structure was completed in 1936 and consecrated in that year by Cardinal Verdier, official Legate of Pope Pius XI. I heard the broadcasts of Solemn High Mass, which take place from the cathedral every Sunday, in places as far away as Ghana and Southern Nigeria. Fr Brottier was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1986.
The then Archbishop of Dakar, Most Rev Marcel Lefebvre, CSSp, was one of the most outstanding prelates in the Holy Ghost congregation. Since 1948, as well as ruling the Archdiocese of Dakar, he was Apostolic Delegate to all the French territories of continental and insular Africa. When we called on him at the Apostolic Delegation at Fann just outside Dakar, he received us most graciously. On the walls of his study were maps of his vast jurisdiction which encompassed places as far apart as Rabat in Morocco and Madagascar and Reunion in the Indian Ocean. The Catholics in these territories numbered 3,600,000, spread over 46 dioceses and 13 prefectures apostolic. The amount of travel done by him in the course of a year was gruelling. Although burdened with many cares, he found time to show us the works of African art which he had carefully selected from the different countries in his Delegation and very kindly put his car and chauffeur at our disposal for the rest of that day.
One of Archbishop Lefebvre’s achievements was that he had brought Africa’s most important missionary societies into close collaboration. In Dakar, White Fathers staffed the Press, the Society of African Mission (SMA) had general direction of all educational work and the Holy Ghost Fathers had the care of souls and were responsible for the social programme.
Archbishop Lefebvre was elected Superior General of the Holy Ghost Fathers in 1962. However, because of the positions he took during Vatican II he retired from that office at the 1968 General Chapter of the Congregation and went on to become the founder of the Lefebvrite Schismatic movement. He died in 1991.
The flight from Dakar to Bathurst (now called Banjul) took only fifty minutes. Alec and I travelled by WAAC, the West African Airways Corporation. It was my first introduction to this successful airline which operated all over West Africa and also had a service to Europe. As yet all the WAAC pilots were European but the co-pilots and other officers and staff were African.
A Strange Land
The Gambia is an intriguing little country and certainly one of the most interesting in Africa. It is a finger of land lying from six to ten miles on either side of the river Gambia and extending for 243 miles into French territory. It has been variously described as ‘like an earthworm’, ‘like a tight wrinkled sleeve’, ‘that strange, stringbean segment of land’.
The oldest and smallest British Colony in Africa, it was first discovered by the Portuguese in 1455. British trading began there in 1587 and during the following three centuries Portuguese, Dutch, French and British companies struggled with each other for supremacy in trade. As far back as 1623 the country was ‘written up’ by one Richard Johnson in a book called The Golden Trade. His description of men playing draughts, and indeed many other passages in the book, came alive before me in every detail as I moved about the dusty, sun-baked riverside:
In the heat of the day, the men will come forth, and sit themselves in companies, under the shady trees, to receive the fresh afire, and there passe the time in communication, having only one kind of game to recreate themselves withal], and that is a piece of wood, certaine great holes cut, which they set upon the ground betwixt two of them, and with a number of some thirtie pebble stones, after a manner of counting, they take one from the other, until one is possessed of all, whereat some of them are wondrous nimble.
The 4,132 square miles of Gambia supported some 800,000 people of whom about 50 per cent were Mandinkas. The other tribes are Wolofs, Fulahs, Tucolors, Serahulis, Diolas and Serers. As I travelled up country from Bathurst to Basse (the most remote mission centre in the territory) I met different tribes and different languages everywhere. Some of the Africans I met spoke French or Portuguese or an African language but not English. This Gilbertian state quickly impressed the stranger as being an artificial entity with no real unity – tribal, linguistic, social or economic. The British held the river but not sufficient hinterland to give it the economic advantage it would give to French West Africa which surrounds it. It in no way surprised me when I read a report by Stephen Coulter in the Sunday Times stating that ‘… in the near future the State of Senegal will absorb the Gambia … which has been British for 150 years. So far no date has been discussed for the merger, but French officials say the British have amicably agreed.’ To date the merger has not taken place, and the Gambia remains independent.
During our seminary days, the name the Gambia denoted the hardest mission confided to the Irish Holy Ghost Fathers. To ask to be sent there was regarded as doing something bordering on the heroic. The history of the mission gave good grounds for such a belief. It is on record that out of 199 British soldiers who arrived in Bathurst in May 1825, 160 were dead by Christmas. The first Holy Ghost Missionaries to evangelise in the Gambia, Fathers Ronac’h and Warlop, came there in 1849. Their careers set the pattern for their successors. Disease forced Father Ronac’h to return to France in 1850 and he died of tuberculosis the following year. The people of Brittany regarded him as a saint and venerate his grave to this day. During the century and a half that has elapsed since then disease and death, coupled with the indifference of the people and the strong grip of the Muslim religion, have combined to make this one of the most difficult mission fields in the church. Within a period of six months during the 1930s six Irish Holy Ghost Fathers went to the Gambia and either died there or had to leave because of illness. Malaria, dysentery and typhoid wrought dreadful ravages among Europeans, while smallpox and sleeping sickness afflicted Gambians. Modern medicine has worked wonders but the climate remains a very severe one. The dry season, from December to May, is fairly healthy but Europeans find the other months very difficult.
On arrival at Yundum Airport, about 12 miles from Bathurst, we were met by a towering red-haired missionary from Longford, Father Frank Farrell, who as Vicar-General of the diocese was in charge of ecclesiastical affairs pending the return of the newly consecrated bishop, Most Rev Michael Moloney, CSSp. The airport is situated on the edge of a wide area that was denuded of trees to provide a site for an ambitious poultry scheme. The project, devised by the British Colonial Development Corporation, cost almost £1,000,000 of British money but no eggs were exported to Britain. Of 300,000 head of poultry all but 90 died of Newcastle disease. We looked at the flat and treeless plain around us as Father Farrell drove on towards Bathurst. It reflected the stunted and unnatural economy of the country. The British have certainly tried. A scheme involving £1,115,000 and a fisheries project costing over £500,000 were launched and abandoned. Before leaving the country, I visited the laterite mines near Bathurst into which £1,000,000 was sunk. It was at that time in the process of being closed, leaving behind as a sad legacy the only railway line the Gambia has ever seen.
Catholic Life in Bathurst
The mission in Bathurst proved to be rather like a monastery in appearance. The Cathedral of the Assumption, the fathers’ residence and St Augustine’s Secondary School were all grouped together to form an imposing ecclesiastical stronghold in a central Position in this city. We were welcomed on arrival there by Father Michael Frawley, Father Andy O’Carroll, Father Brian D’Arcy and Father Willie Costello.
Let me say that the intensity of the Catholic life in Bathurst surprised and edified me from the start. I had not expected anything so splendid. There was ample opportunity to observe it because during my stay I lived in the shadow of the cathedral and could study the faithful as they came and went at all hours of the day.
The cathedral, built by French Holy Ghost Fathers, is one of the finest churches in West Africa. The lofty barrel-vaulted ceiling gives an air of spaciousness and coolness. The lambent light that filters in through multi-coloured French style windows is a pleasant relief from the tropical glare outside. A statue of the Sacred Heart looks down on a wide sanctuary from above the High Altar. There are two side altars, one in honour of Our Lady of Victories and one in honour of St Joseph. It was October and a temporary altar with a Statue of Our Lady of Fatima had been set up just inside the communion rail. Many Wolof mothers came to pray before it and I noticed that none of them ever left the church without first going to shake hands with any other women who happened to be there at the time.
A striking feature is the fine pulpit, one of the highest I have ever seen. At the back, above the level of the preacher’s head, are two simple tablets, the first bearing the numerals from I to V and the other those from VI to X. It is an unusual, but surely a fitting, ornamentation for a pulpit from which the law of God is proclaimed.
The morning after our arrival was Sunday and I attended the 10 o’clock Mass, which was sung. The cathedral was packed, the men and boys taking the epistle side and the women and girls the gospel side. Never before had I seen such a colourful congregation. The Wolof women are renowned for grace and beauty and love of finery. They glided into the church with queenly carriage, their shining dresses creating a kaleidoscope of glowing colours. Ears and arms were adorned with ornaments of native gold. These women have no peers along the West Coast in the realm of dress. Their young daughters, school-girls at the Convent of St Joseph of Cluny, wore white straw hats and were under the supervision of one of the Sisters. The round-eyed schoolboys dressed in check shirts and navy blue pants strode manfully up and down aisles, their arms swinging gaily by their sides.
It was obvious that the entire congregation enjoyed singing the common or the Mass in Gregorian Chant. Indeed, a very audible humming accompanied the celebrant’s chanting of the Pater Noster. I was startled when the silence of the elevation was broken by a sudden murmur, spoken briefly but very devoutly, as first the Host and then the Chalice were raised aloft. Customs such as these are legacy from the intrepid French Missionaries who brought the faith to the Gambia. It must be remembered that for almost a century missionary effort in the country had been, for many reasons, confined to Banjul. It resulted in the building up of a deeply devout Catholic community there. It was only in 1931 that Banjul was detached from Dakar and erected into an independent ecclesiastical jurisdiction confided to the Irish Holy Ghost Fathers. Father John Meehan, a great-hearted missionary from Donegal, was the first ecclesiastical superior, and he spread out his priests into the whole of the country, founding stations at key centres from which it would be possible to contact the pockets of ‘pagans’ among the Muslim majority.
He died in 1954, but the Catholics of Banjul have not forgotten his 49 years of apostolic labour among them. As a memorial to him, they have donated a beautiful High Altar to the cathedral.
Go Ye Afar
It was strange at the end of Mass, to hear these Africans singing the missionary hymn of the Holy Ghost Fathers, Go Ye Afar. At that time its composer, Father James Burke C.S.Sp., was lying on his sick bed in Rockwell College, where he died some weeks later. He never saw Africa, but the inspiring words and music of the beautiful missionary hymn that he composed will be heard wherever the Holy Ghost Fathers go to ‘preach and bring good news of peace’.
The outstanding event during my stay in the Gambia was the arrival of the recently consecrated bishop, Most Rev Michael Moloney C.S.Sp., who had been working there as a priest since 1938. He had been consecrated in Kimmage Manor some months previously by the Apostolic Nuncio. He was the first Bishop of Banjul – it had only become a diocese in 1957.
His flock prepared for the coming of their first bishop with eager expectation. On the Friday of his arrival, long before the Apapa docked, a great crowd gathered at the wharf to welcome him. As he left the ship he passed through a guard of honour of Catholic Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. Applause and cheering greeted him as he drove through the crowded streets lined with smiling African faces. When he came to the cathedral the bells pealed out in welcome, and the Te Deum was chanted in thanksgiving for a successor of the apostles to rule over the church in the Gambia. When one remembers that Muslims number almost 90 per cent of the population of the country, one can realise that this was indeed ‘a great day’ for its Catholic community.
During the following days there were further manifestations of welcome and pledges of loyalty. On Saturday morning the girls of the St Joseph of Cluny School presented him with a beautifully carved seat for the throne. Next day saw the most splendid event in the history of the church in Gambia as the joyful people witnessed the solemn enthronement of their bishop in the Cathedral of the Assumption. Not a sound was heard during the reading of the Papal Bulls. Every movement in the sanctuary was observed with rapt attention by the enthralled congregation as Mgr Theophile Cadoux, Prefect Apostolic of Kaolack, Senegal, led Bishop Moloney to the throne. The Banjul altar boys fully lived up to their reputation that day. The grace and dignity of their movements and the perfection with which they carried out the ceremonies were a delight to watch and I do not think that I saw any who surpassed them elsewhere on the West Coast.
Pope Pius XII
In his sermon to the representative congregation, which included His Excellency the Governor, Sir Edward Windley, Bishop Moloney recalled the final message spoken to him a short while previously by Pope Pius XII• ‘Henceforth you belong to your people; they are given to you as sheep to a shepherd. You are the bearer of my blessing to them because they are my people also.’ The death, only a month previously, of the great Pontiff gave to these simple words an added poignancy. The bishop went on to make a special appeal for a deep spirit of co-operation and harmony among all creeds and classes in his diocese. ‘We are,’ he said, ‘a small country of different peoples and tongues and of different faiths. If we are to take our place worthily among the other African nations we must learn to work together with mutual confidence and trust. Nothing constructive has ever been achieved by violent sectional conflict, either in the religious, educational or political field.’
During the afternoon a reception was held in the grounds of the Convent of the Sisters of St Joseph of Cluny and it afforded me an opportunity of seeing and meeting not only Catholics from all walks of life but representatives of various religious denominations. The Alimami, spiritual leader of the Muslims of the Gambia, was particularly noticeable among the 600 guests because of his singular flowing white robes. Bishop St John Pyke, Tipperary-born head of the Anglican Mission was there, as was the Methodist leader. The convent grounds had been tastefully decorated by the Sisters for the occasion and provided a fitting setting for this unique gathering. It was a pleasant surprise to see, high above the wealth of colour of dresses and bunting, a totally unexpected but familiar sight – the Irish tricolour flying side by side with the British flag. To add to the pleasure the Police Band played some stirring Irish airs.
A Tribute from the Governor
Carefully composed and well-delivered addresses were read on behalf of associations such as the Catholic Parents’ Association and the Legion of Mary. Then the Governor made his eagerly awaited speech which I remember for two reasons. First of all, he paid a remarkable tribute to the late Holy Father and stressed the tremendous power for good in the world of the papacy. Secondly, recalling what he himself had witnessed during the troubles in East Africa, he declared that the Catholic Church was the rock on which evil forces had perished there.
A Vital Question
Replying to the addresses and speeches of welcome, the bishop referred to a question that is of vital importance for the spread of the faith in Gambia as elsewhere – the right of the Catholic Church to provide for the Catholic education of its children. Methodists and Anglicans had co-operated with the Government on projects to provide mixed and lay education and for years the Gambian Catholics had been fighting a lone battle in this field. When in 1945 the civil authorities re-organised education the mission succeeded in maintaining its schools as an organic unit within the new system, even though the state acquired more control than it had previously enjoyed. A later government effort to abolish the mission’s secondary schools and replace them by a secular-controlled institution failed before the determined resistance of the local Legislative Council that was dissatisfied with the poor record of the secular elementary schools. Nevertheless, the position remained uncertain and insecure and the payment of our secondary staffs was very inadequate. The bishop’s words, therefore, when understood in the context of that background, were charged with sign i fi cance.’Education in its true sense,’ he said, ‘which means the formation of the mind and character of the young, cannot without the gravest consequences be standardised, or be monopolised by any one agency. In a country like the Gambia which has so few and inadequate educational facilities any attempt to limit the contribution of an agency prepared to work within the framework of the Constitution would be detrimental to the progress of the country as a whole. Nothing short of partnership on a co-operative basis, with equality of treatment for all, can bridge the educational gulf between the Gambia and the other countries of Africa. We on our part are prepared to put forth every effort to solve our educational backwardness. … Although we are a small country we can set an example to the other nations of the world by building the foundations of our young country on the law of God and respect and love for one another.’
It was for me a great privilege to be with these fine Catholics of Gambia on their great day of joy. As it drew to a close the fathers gathered together around their bishop in St Augustine’s Mission to pay their own special tribute to him. The trials and hardships which form the daily lot of a missionary in this unyielding portion of the Lord’s harvest were momentarily forgotten in the banter and companionship of this golden hour. They would set off again next day, along unfriendly roads or on the great Gambia river itself, and return to labour in lonely missions far away from the night’s camaraderie. Lonely perhaps, but each man of them loved the life and thanked God for having called him to it.
The flight from the Gambia to Sierra Leone by Ghana Airways proved very enjoyable. It was cooler and more comfortable in the plane than on land and we had a fine view of the coast all through the trip. We passed directly over Conakry which was at that time in the headlines because of French Guinea’s decision to become independent of France.
As we neared Sierra Leone dark clouds cast a dull shadow over everything. On our arrival at Lungi Airport, rain was falling in great heavy drops. The customs examination was the most searching I experienced anywhere. The reason for the severity, I learned later, was the widespread smuggling of diamonds. As many diamonds leave the country illegally as leave legally. The customs examination was not without interest. The expressions of outrage, injured innocence and chagrin on the faces of my companions as various dutiable commodities were brought to light from the deepest recesses of travelling bags provided welcome distraction during a long wait at the terminal. No doubt, they watched with amusement as I, in turn, tried in vain to get a miniature tape-recorder through without paying duty.
If I thought that Lungi Airport was somewhere on the outskirts of Freetown I was wrong. It must be one of the most inconveniently placed airports in the world. To reach Freetown the traveller must do a long journey by bus and then go across the bay by launch. My companions on the bus were a cosmopolitan lot. Sitting beside me was a Norwegian, one of a party of six who had travelled to Sierra Leone to catch a boat for South Africa. ‘We are six pieces,’ he explained to me in faltering English as he gestured in the direction of his fellow countrymen. The bus route passed through thick bush with houses scattered here and there. One noticed immediately that the houses were different in design from those in the Gambia. They were rectangular in shape, with a wide porch in front, and in some cases they were decorated with coloured drawings of flowers and birds.