Last month I had the privilege of being part of the communication team at the global Anglican Consultative Council (ACC-18) in Accra. Ghana. The meeting took a day to move away from the week-long agenda to visit a 17th-century castle on Ghana’s Cape Coast. Cape Coast Castle was built by the Swedes in 1653. Over the years, it fell into Danish, Dutch and, finally, in 1665, English hands.
The castle was the center of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, many enslaved Africans who were taken from their homes sometimes hundreds of miles away were held at Cape Coast Castle before being transported to the Americas on British slave ships. We toured the various places and there is little or no doubt that as one ACC member said, “A pilgrimage to Cape Coast changes your very being. There is no return from breathing in the atmosphere of this place.”
One of the most difficult places for me was the dungeons. The female slaves were separated from the men and any enslaved woman could be violated without recrimination by the Governor or soldiers that lived in the castle. The male dungeons, no bigger than the average living room crammed in over 1000 African men. Here they had to sleep, rest, and relieve themselves. In one dungeon the excrement formed a substructure several feet deep. With no water or food many died of dehydration and any number of other diseases. Those who died where thrown over the castle walls into the Atlantic while those who survived were led down a tiny passage to the Door of No Return, where the boats awaited to take them.
A greater shock still awaited me. Directly above the dungeons was the chapel. The sound of the wailing of Africans would have mixed with the hymns and prayers being offered above. My mind still does not understand how you pray within a few short yards of this sea of humanity dying underneath you. How warped is the understanding of the gospel in that place at that time?
In commenting on the visit, The Archbishop of Canterbury said, “Our response must begin on our knees in prayer and repentance. In calling on the God who blesses the broken, the reviled and those who mourn. In looking to God who transforms, redeems, and reconciles. But our response does not end there. We are called to transform unjust structures, to pursue peace and reconciliation, to live out the Beatitudes in big ways and small.”
When we stop to pray, to worship to sing hymns do we hear the voices of those we judge not to be like us. Do we shut the doors of our Churches so as not to see the needs of the world? The Rt Revd. Graham Usher, the Bishop of Norwich, thoughtfully summed up our day: “We cry out to God because we know this should never have been — and that the legacy of this horrible place lives on in relationships that are still out of kilter. We cry out, holding on to the hope of a better future. In a place like this, only lament offers hope of return in our search for God.”
Paul Feheley, National Director of AFP Canada