By Katrina Genereux/Associate Editor, OND
In mid-August, St. William, Twin Valley, hosted the new pastor of their sister parish, St. Francis Xavier in Wiaga, Ghana. St. William has had a relationship with the parish in Africa for 12 years.
Deacon Nick Revier of St. William said the parish had met and developed a close relationship with Father Clement Beeri, the prior pastor, so they were glad when Father George Asigre, who was assigned pastor in the last couple years, was able to visit from Aug. 14-21 while in the United States on other business.
Deacon Revier said technology, particularly via smartphone, has helped the relationship between the parishes grow, especially the ability to quickly communicate and share photos. Previously updates from Ghana were received two or three times per year.
“I felt that we need to relight or rekindle the flame that sustains the relationship and try to let people understand that there is a lot that we can benefit from one another as partners,” Father Asigre said. “Sharing our faith stories with people over here and getting their side of the expression of faith … we can both be enriched by those experiences as we grow together.”
Wiaga is in a rural area of northern Ghana where resources, food and water can be scarce. Many of the people are subsistence farmers growing peanuts, millet and corn. Father Asigre said transportation in the area is very difficult because the roads are in bad condition.
“On a daily basis, I face people coming to the mission looking for food to eat,” he said. He frequently sees the need to help people with clothing, school tuition, and food. He estimates about $100 per week is needed to feed those most in need in the community.
A teenage girl whose father died came to the parish seeking tuition assistance to stay in school. After meeting with the girl and her mother, Father Asigre was able to help them. A month later her mother died.
“Now it is not just that girl, but her brother as well. They are both teenagers. They are struggling to take care of themselves … so that has become our responsibility,” he said.
Father Asigre said there are many instances where assistance is required. He also said the parish goes out of its way to assist people who are not Catholic as a means of evangelization. He received a call from the local hospital about a girl who tried to harm herself after her family tried to force her to marry a village chief against her will. She was not Catholic, but the parish was able to help her continue going to school.
“You don’t just go out and talk and say, ‘oh you are feeling hungry, go and eat well,’” Father Asigre said referencing James 2. “Out of the mandate and mission we have to find ways of supporting such vulnerable people in the community.”
Father Asigre and another priest serve St. Francis Xavier and seven outposts. They celebrate four Masses each Sunday, at rotating locations. Father Asigre said about 1,500 attend Mass each Sunday.
Parishioners were able to contribute $3 in sacrificial giving during the offertory at one of the outpost parishes, however the cost of gas for Father Asigre to get there was $5.
“These are not people standing with their hand out, they are just trying to survive,” said Deacon Revier.
Father Asigre came to the Red River Valley to meet the people of St. William’s and to visit other parishes of the diocese to share about the projects he is working on.
St. Francis Xavier’s church roof needs finishing. It is not sealed so birds roost in the sanctuary. Currently they need to keep the altar draped because of droppings.
“That’s one of the projects to get at least the sanctuary ceiling finished to preserve the integrity of the altar,” said Deacon Nick.
The church also needs flooring and pews. Father Asigre said the floor is cracked, and there are not enough seats for everyone. Many parishioners walk long distances to come to Mass which lasts up to two hours. People sit on wooden planks supported by cement bricks.
“It is inconvenient to sit for two hours with nothing to lean on and focus on the Mass that’s going on, it’s quite a challenge,” he said.
Another project is to finish an expansion of the parish school. One building was completed, and a second started but funding ran out. Some students study under a tree because there is not enough school space.
The estimated cost for the church refurbishment and completion of the school is $40,000.
“God helps those who help themselves and we have to be people who take initiative so that’s what we are going to do,” said Father Asigre. He has fundraising events planned, including a harvest dinner in November. He is also grateful for assistance contributed by St. William’s.
Deacon Revier said his parish raises funds through Lenten soup suppers and occasional appeals to the parish. His wife, Jean, makes custom rosaries that can include names or significant dates for a $35 donation that is sent to Ghana.
He said they have been able to raise $2,200 from St. William’s parishioners and a few others they met with during Father Asigre’s visit.
“Just imagine if we could get the mission out to a few parishes around that are looking for someone to help,” Deacon Revier said. “We’re not recruiting, but if the Spirit moves you and you want to do something, we have something here you can do.”