[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the US-based Episcopal Church has led a reconciliation pilgrimage for bishops and Episcopal Relief & Development supporters to Ghana. The pilgrims visited cities and sites critical to understanding the transatlantic slave trade and the efforts of Episcopal Relief & Development partners and programmes working to improve Ghanaians’ lives.
It was a pilgrimage that Bishop Curry described as akin to going home:
“I was really thinking of it as a kind of ‘homecoming’ for me as an African-American, as someone born and reared in the United States. Whenever I’ve come back to Africa, whether east, central or west, I’ve often had that strange feeling like I was coming to a land that knew me before,” he said, while standing in the courtyard of Elmina Castle, a castle built by the Portuguese in 1482.
“But this time, knowing we were coming to the place of [initial] enslavement, of embarkation, where the slaves began their journey through the middle passage … knowing that was like returning to the roots of who I am. And when you go back to your roots, you’re really going home.”
From Accra, Ghana’s capital, the pilgrims flew north to Tamale and boarded a bus that took them further north to the Upper East Region, where they spent a morning walking the paths of Pikoro Slave Camp, the same paths walked by an estimated 500,000 enslaved people between 1704 and 1805. Newly captured slaves from Mali and Burkina Faso were brought to the camp where they were chained to trees, where they ate one meal a day from bowls carved into rock, and where the process of stripping them of their humanity commenced. Slaves were marched from Pikoro 500 miles south to one of 50 castles on Africa’s west coast, 39 of them in Ghana, where they were held in dungeons, standing and sleeping in their own excrement, before their captors loaded them onto ships bound for the New World. The pilgrims traced that journey, as well, flying back to Accra and boarding a bus bound for the coast.
“In so many ways this pilgrimage has birthed reconciliation for those of us who participated as we’ve been reconciled with one another and been formed in beloved community,” said the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, the canon to the presiding bishop for evangelism, reconciliation and creation. “Reconciliation with our history and with the slave trade and the ways that so many were implicated in it and suffered because of it, and reconciliation because what we’ve seen through the work of Episcopal Relief & Development, that history does not have to define the way as we as church show up today in Ghana and around the world.”
“My hope is that this journey will help us reclaim and reface a common history that we have, a painful past, not for the sake of guilt, and not for the sake of wallowing in the past, but for the sake of us, black, white, red, yellow and brown, finding ways to face our past and then turn in another direction and create a new future,” Bishop Curry added, quoting the words of the poet Maya Angelou: “The history, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage need not be lived again.”
“That’s our goal and that’s how the past is redeemed and a new future is claimed,” he said. “And that is the task of the Episcopal Church.”
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