Sister Ruthina Francis, on mission in the Ivory Coast, tells us about a community outing to Ghana, where they visited the historical sites and memorials of the Ghanaian people. The occasion was both challenging and inspiring.
A painful encounter
A community outing is usually a time for relaxation. It is a chance to change our habits and get some fresh air. We experience something different. It is a kind of tourism. Nevertheless, the outing of the Daoukro community to Ghana during this Lenten season had a deep impact on us when we made guided visits to two castles, Cape Coast Castle and St. Georges Castle, Elmina. These historic places brought us face to face with part of our painful history.
Located on the coast of Ghana, both were used to detain, torture, and chain Africans before they passed through the ‘Door of No-Return’ to be shipped to unknown lands. With our guide, Christelle, Maxime, and I traveled the road of our brothers and sisters through the dungeons, the punishment chambers, the reception yard, the Door of No-Return…
A hard and horrible story! Human beings torn away from their country of origin and their family, treated like objects, their dignity scorned. A reality full of pain and trauma, reinforced by the transatlantic slave trade, a widespread and sustained crime.
Our brothers and sisters with the same dignity as us were deprived of their freedom and became someone’s property. As Pope Francis emphasises today, slavery is a “wound in the body of humanity, a wound in the flesh of Christ”, “it is our ‘unworthiness’, because it robs each of us of our dignity.”
A Way of the Cross
Full of emotion and anger after walking step by step through the castle, I sat in a dungeon used for chaining women and lamented:
- How could this happen to humanity?
- Why does this part of humanity feel inferior to other parts?
- How can we face this horrible past without hatred against the executioners who treated our ancestors like this?
- What lesson can we learn from such a sad past?
- What spiritual experience can be gained from this phenomenon?
These are the questions that I asked myself after having walked the Way of the Cross on the road taken by force by our brothers and sisters who were sold into slavery. Is this story not like that of Jesus, who became a slave and died on the cross for our sins? Is it not similar to the fourteen stations of pain that Jesus suffered on his way to the Cross?
At the same time, it is a path of hope. The season of Lent is a good time to re-read this story, in order to move forward step by step with Jesus. As our Rule of Life emphasises:
“We reread our lives and the events of our history
in the light of the Word of God.”
(Rule of Life no 31)
What road to freedom?
I realised that the road to freedom is not always easy because there are many difficulties to cross and chains to remove. At the same time, it is a road of “no return” from all that enslaves me. It represents the passion of Jesus. During this time of Lent, it is only by looking at the love of Jesus who died on the cross and rose again that I will be able to walk this path of freedom. It is a path “guided by Love”. As Pope Francis said in a general audience in October 2021, freedom is a “treasure that is truly appreciated only when it is lost”.
May this Lenten season be for us a path to liberation. Martin Luther King summed up this path for us in his famous 1963 speech, “I have a dream”.
“Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever continue our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
Sr Ruthina Francis, dj
Daoukro, Ivory Coast