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Catholic Church in Ghana Suffers Losses in Education, Health Projects owing to COVID-19

Members of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference (GCBC). Credit: GCBC

The Catholic Church in Ghana has not been spared by the COVID-19 pandemic that has threatened to sink the country’s health and education sectors.

The members of the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference (GCBC) have, in a statement, noted that various Dioceses that run schools and hospitals across the country have been affected by the pandemic.

In a Monday, November 8 statement that was read out by GCBC President, the Bishops say that various Catholic Dioceses in the country have encountered losses on various projects that had received huge funding.

“The Church being a key stakeholder in health delivery in Ghana has … been affected. Chaplains of hospitals and health workers have been directly affected, leading, in some cases, to loss of life,” Archbishop Philip Naameh said at the opening ceremony of the 2021 GCBC Plenary Assembly at the St. Andrew’s Cathedral of Ghana’s Wa Diocese.

According to the Catholic Bishops, the overstretching of infrastructure and the new deaths caused by the disease represent “an ever-growing threat in the ability of the church’s health services to respond to the health needs of their respective communities.”

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GCBC members also note that the Church has also not been spared in by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the country’s education sector.

Schools in the West African country Ghana were first closed in March 2020 after the first case of the disease was confirmed in the country. They were reopened in January this year. 

“Education has been one of the most badly hit sectors,” GCBC members say in their November 8 statement, adding, “The Church being a major stakeholder in education in Ghana has therefore been badly affected.”

They explain that while the current Free Senior High School policy has meant greater enrolment in second cycle schools, the need for social distancing has created “an unexpected problem.”

“Church-run institutions have been unable to expand facilities to meet the increasing demand with concerns over falling standards arising and decreasing contact hours between teachers and students,” the Catholic Bishops in Ghana say.

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They also note that the suspension of co-curricular activities in learning institutions is affecting the development of students. 

Further, GCBC members say that Catholic Seminaries have experienced “huge disruptions in their formative programs with further pressure brought to bear on Governing Councils due to inadequate funding and the suspension of fund-raising activities which hitherto supported the running of these institutions.”  

The Catholic Church in Ghana has also experienced economic challenges owing to the disease which has resulted in the death of at least 1,188 people, leaving 130,391 others infected.

The Catholic Bishops say, “Economically, the tumbling of commodity prices due to a fall in productivity has meant less revenue, putting more pressure on the local currency while driving up inflation. Lower productivity has equally led to job losses making an already precarious unemployment situation even worse and threatening to widen the gap between rich and poor.”

“Those impacted by the economic downturn are members of the church and this has consequently led to a weakening of church finances. Indeed, for a period of about three months, between March and June 2020, churches could not take the usual offerings, which is the main source of income. Salaries of church workers still had to be paid and other financial obligations met. This has left many Parishes financially insolvent,” GCBC members say. 

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COVID-19 has also had a direct impact on pastoral work in Ghana, the Catholic Church leaders in the West African nation say. 

“As a response to government’s measures to limit the spread of the virus, the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference suspended the obligation for the faithful to physically attend Sunday masses,” they recall, adding, “A good number of persons have since not returned to Church due to fear of infections.”

Catechism and children’s services have also not resumed in several Parishes with visitations to the sick being carried out with extreme precaution, the Bishops note. 

In the face of the challenges, GCBC members say they have realized that there are several opportunities for evangelization. 

One of the opportunities, they say, is the realization that the Church throughout the country has to turn her attention to youth and women empowerment and skills training. 

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“Basic technical and vocational skills need to become part and parcel of the formative programs in the church given to youth. Youth camps and holiday activities must consciously incorporate the teaching of basic employable skills such as soap making, mobile phone repairs and beverage brewing to the youth to teach them to support themselves in time of necessity,” Catholic Bishops in Ghana say. 

They also note that the Church, which was caught “wrong-footed” when gatherings were restricted, has to urgently look into ways of harnessing technology as an effective pastoral tool for reaching out to her faithful.

“There is the need for the Church to pay particular attention to the area of Information and Communications Technology as the new Areopagus for evangelization,” GCBC members say in their November 8 statement. 

They also say that COVID-19 has presented the Church with an opportunity “to bring all her children together as family in a concerted effort to overcome the challenges foisted upon her by this pandemic.”