SVD Finally in Liberia!

In 2012 as the Ghana Province planned activities to mark the 75 years of the presence of the SVD in Ghana for the following year (exact date of 13th October), Fr. General and his Council threw a challenge to us in the province to consider opening a mission in Liberia as part of marking the occasion. We took up this gauntlet and that is what had culminated in the history made this month in Liberia with respect to the SVD worldwide mission activities. 

On Monday the 9th of November 2015, the Provincial of the Ghana Province, Fr. George Clement Angmor, led a team of three confreres to Monrovia, Liberia, to begin our mission work in that country.

Most Reverend Andrew Jaggy Karnley, Bishop of the Catholic diocese of Cape Palmas who had invited us to take a parish in his diocese, was at the airport with one of his priests to welcome us. On the Sunday that followed on November 15, 2015, in the Christ the King Parish in Zwedru City, Grand Gedeh County at 10:00 am, Bishop Karnley presided over the celebration of the Holy Eucharist to officially welcome the SVD into his diocese, and in fact, into the whole of Liberia!

In the hour preceding the Mass, the contract between the diocese and us the SVD was duly signed and sealed with the signatures of Fr. George Angmor (witnessed by the leader of our team, Fr. Jozef Mazur) on the one hand, and Bishop Karnley (witnessed by his Vicar General) on behalf of the Diocese of Cape Palmas. The church, about at least 600 seating capacity and recently renovated and painted by the sole efforts of the parishioners, had been mostly filled for the day’s happy occasion. Various groups of women, youths, Knights and Ladies of St. John International and Marshall were all in their beautiful outfits. The Mass itself was filled with a lot of lively songs throughout. At the end of his sermon, the bishop called the SVD priests and gave them a special blessing for our mission before continuing with the rest of the Mass.

Bishop Karnley is so joyful and grateful to the SVD for accepting to come and collaborate to fulfil the Lord’s mission in his diocese which covers five of the fifteen Liberian counties (regions) and thus one of the biggest of the three dioceses of Liberia. Presently he has fifteen diocesan priests but only ten are active in his dioceses.

The Liberian mission has been opened as a new district under Ghana province. Ghana therefore provided two confreres of the province and requested the help of Fr. General and his council to help us with the rest. Thereupon we now have four for the mission. They are Frs Jozef Mazur, Joseph Addai and Louis Yao Awoudja. The fourth and the youngest, Fr. Jean-Bertrand Tchekpi from Togo, who did his theological studies here in Ghana and assigned to Ghana for the Liberian mission, was ordained in August this year but will join the team in Liberia in the new year. The Bishop announced Fr Mazur as the new parish priest of Christ the King Parish, Zwedru on the same day of welcoming.

Fr Addai will work still in the educational apostolate of the parish and indeed in the diocese because he has been made the Manager and Supervisor of the three elementary and high schools in Grand Gedeh county in the diocese. Two of these schools: St. Philomena elementary school and the Bishop Juwle High Schools are in Zwedru, while the third one is the Our Lady of Angelus elementary school in Zleh Town, some forty kilometers or so from Zwedru. Fr. Awoudja, being francophone, his area of focus of ministry is to be with the Ivorian refugees in the UN refugee camp in Zwedru. It has over 48,000 registered members not counting the others.

Indeed, as part of the orientation, on the afternoon of Sunday November 15, we visited the Catholic community with the bishop and hitherto, the parish priest Fr. Joseph Nyati. The refugees were very happy at our arrival.
Zwedru city is the capital of the Grand Gedeh county that is found on the eastern part of Liberia bordering Ivory Coast. There are a lot of faith communities that can be built up and existing ones strengthened. Thus there is a rich amount of mission work that can be undertaken. The local Krahn language may become very handy to achieve these and so our confreres after settling, will have to pick up the local dialect. English is however highly used. Time will also be needed to learn other parts of the new culture our confreres find themselves.

Zwedru houses the UN contingents from China, India and Nigeria. The town is lush with vegetation and also water. Motorbikes are the common means of ferrying people from one place to another or functioning as taxis. It was my impression that there are a lot of youths in the town and they love to do a lot of physical exercises. It struck me that the boys love to play so much soccer and you find many mini fields scattered in town being used most often in the evenings but as well, in the mornings too. The young ladies also play what they say is unique to Liberia, kick ball. Certainly, Zwedru is a lovely place to be and one of us remarked that based upon our experience in our province, we never had the situation of being entrusted with a well developed good parish as we have just received!

Yes indeed, Zwedru is a nice place but around the time of our arrival there, it demanded quite some courageous perseverance to reach – all because of the nature of the road! A day after our arrival, while still in the capital city Monrovia, Bishop Karnley had a message from Zwedru that the road to the place was reported to be bad – wet and trucks getting stuck or spoilt. They advised that we wait for some few more days in Monrovia for the weather to be dry so we could go on the road with little trouble. He explained this to us and added that we may have to wade through mud in certain places. When he told us, we agreed that there was no use staying in Monrovia and so if he himself was going to pass through the mud, we were ready to do likewise.

On our journey on Friday 13th, we got to a certain place and we had had to wait for four good hours as heads were put together to temporarily fix the passageway so cars could cross. About a little over an hour of travel further along that way, we got to a worse spot at 8:50 pm. Indeed, it was known as the worst spot and indeed so it was as many dozens of cars and trucks had packed at either side unable to cross! We had no other choice but that the eight of us traveling together, including the bishop, one of his consultors, one sister and a driver, had to sleep that night on our seats in our two vehicles (Toyota Landcruisers). The bishop had arranged in the night for two cars to be brought from the other end in Zwedru in the morning. When they came, we then walked through the mud in our wellington boots we had been given in Monrovia. At 10:30 am on Saturday morning, we could continue our journey, finally arriving about 1:15 pm in Zwedru.

The three full days we had in Monrovia before departing for Zwedru were very useful. Bishop Karnley had drawn up an elaborate programme that we followed in our orientation in Monrovia. It took us to meet many important figures such as the Archbishop of Monrovia, Most Rev. Lewis Zeigler, the Apostolic Nuncio both of whom invited us for supper and lunch respectively on different days; meeting some veteran missionaries in Liberia especially Sr. Barbara Brilliant, FMM and her community in whose hostel/compound we had stayed in Monrovia; Fr. Gary, SMA; visit to places that also brought us to grave side at the cathedral of of the late archbishop Michael Francis, who first thought of inviting the SVD to Liberia 25 years ago, saying a prayer there; the study/school community of the Holy Family Sisters in Monrovia, a local congregation of the dioces of Cape Palmas, where we were also invited for supper; some shops and offices as well as other places. Over this time, their immigration documentations were set in motion and also, we were able to secure for them their Liberian drivers license as well as local cell phone SIM registration.

We thank Fr. General and his council for the challenge, the interest and support for this mission. Through the intercession of St. Arnold and the Founding Generation, I can foresee a great SVD mission work arising in Liberia and we pray that their spiritual support will be with us to achieve this dream for the glory of God.
George C. Angmor

Liberia’ Team departed for Liberia Mission
Three of our four confreres assigned to start the long awaited Liberia Mission had a 5-day orientation workshop under the themeLiving and Working through the Spirit of the Lord.The sessions were opened with a Recollection in St. Arnold’s Chapel at the Castle Drive by Fr. Andrew A. Quaye-Foli. He reflected with them onActs 16:9: “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”.  Facilitating the topic  “In Unity is Strength” Fr. Provincial took them through Bonding dynamics, winter Survival exercises, etc. 
Treating ‘Building together’Fr. Straathof led the team through Community Development whilst Fr. Rex Vegbey handled ‘Mediating culture and conflicts through effective communication’.Inspector Samuel Quansah on his part gave an input on ‘A peace personnel’s insight on Liberia’ .
The Afram Zonal Coordinator Fr. Joseph Kallanchira was present to give his input on AFRAM zonal concerns. The Workshop concluded with a look at SVD Parish character, Mission concerns and some strategic planning.