Catholic Archbishop in Sierra Leone Puzzled by Low Turnout for Holy Week Activities “in the last twenty or so years”

Archbishop Edward Tamba Charles of the Archdiocese of Freetown. Credit: Agenzia Fides

Archbishop Edward Tamba Charles  of the Catholic Archdiocese of Freetown in Sierra Leone has decried the low turnout for Holy Week activities in the Archdiocese, and expressed concern that the lay faithful he is shepherding have continued to show indifference to many other pastoral activities that are available for them.

In his March 23 message shared with ACI Africa, Archbishop Tamba Charles said that apart from the large crowds that attend Good Friday celebrations, not many people turn up to participate in the rest of the liturgical activities of the Holy Week for the years that he has been Archbishop of Freetown.

“I have observed in the last twenty or so years, but most especially in the last sixteen years of my episcopal ministry that, apart from the liturgy of the Passion of the Lord on Good Friday, the Catholic faithful in the Archdiocese of Freetown generally do not attend, in large numbers, the other liturgical celebrations during the Easter Triduum; that is, Holy Thursday and Easter Vigil,” Archbishop Tamba Charles said in the message that was sent to ACI Africa on Monday, March 24.

He added, “I am yet to find out the reasons for this noticeable lack of interest among our Catholic faithful in the liturgical celebrations of Holy Thursday, which is the commemoration of the Lord's Supper, the Holy Eucharist or Holy Mass, the very source and climax of the entire life and mission of the Church.”

The Sierra Leonean Catholic Church leader, who started his Episcopal Ministry in May 2008 as Archbishop of the then Archdiocese of Freetown and Bo further described Holy Thursday as “the distinguishing mark of the Catholic Church and its members.”


Participation in the celebration of Easter Vigil in the Archdiocese of Freetown has also been low, he said, and described Easter Vigil as an important occasion during which the whole Church keeps prayer vigil to await the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Archbishop Tamba Charles noted that on Easter Vigil, new members of the Church are initiated into the mysteries of Christ through Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist, and those already baptized renew their baptismal promises.

“Why do our faithful absent themselves from those celebrations so rich in meaning and symbolism that are so characteristic of Catholicism? Could they be, inadvertently, imitating the other Churches and Ministries that do not have Holy Week celebrations like us Catholics?” he queried. 

The Catholic Church leader, who also serves as the President of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone (IRCSL) added, “It certainly could not be for security reasons because many of our Catholic faithful, both young and not so young, attend social functions … that go on deep into the night and do not show any sign of fear for their security.”

“Or could it be that many of our Catholic faithful are cherry-picking liturgical celebrations in which to participate and which to ignore as less significant to their spiritual life?” he said, further expressing his puzzlement.

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The Catholic Archbishop further expressed concern that the lay people in the Archdiocese of Freetown have continued to remain indifferent to other pastoral activities, including Bible study sessions that members of the Clergy organize.

“As your Archbishop and Chief Shepherd, I am very concerned because similar signs of indifference to important pastoral activities of the Church have been seen elsewhere. For example, some priests have organized, free of charge, Bible study sessions for their parishioners, to introduce them to the riches of Sacred Scripture, but the attendance was so poor; indeed so deplorable,” he lamented. 

The IRCSL President said he found it baffling that many Catholics who shun Bible study sessions either do not know the Scripture very well, or do not read privately the readings of the Sunday and Weekday Masses.

“How many times, for example, have we heard a reader at Mass refer to a letter of St Paul as a ‘book’: ‘A reading from the Book of St Paul to the Romans’? For heaven's sake, St Paul did not write ‘books’; if he did, they are not included among his writings of the Christian Scripture, called New Testament,” Archbishop Tamba Charles said.

“Those same people who repeatedly make mistakes about the types of writings in the Bible do not bother to attend free Bible study classes in their parishes in order to be exposed to the wealth of the Holy Bible and to be introduced to the different types of literature and writings in it,” he said.


He added, “I am kindly appealing to all our parishioners, young and old, men and women, to turn out in large numbers for the coming Holy Week celebrations; especially the evening Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.