No one seemed more surprised than Fr. Dominic at the letter Pope Benedict XVI sent to my Brooklyn parish last December. The pope asked the fifty-four-year-old Ghanaian priest, who had served at St. Columba Church for nearly four years while studying at Fordham University, to be the bishop of a new diocese in his homeland.
Fr. Dominic Yeboah Nyarko was known in the parish as quiet, intelligent, and hardworking, but not the politically attuned sort I would have imagined as a bishop. Yet he came up with a motto (“God’s grace is enough”), went to the Vatican to greet the pope, came back with a beautiful set of color photos of the occasion, and invited his Brooklyn parishioners to attend his installation about five thousand miles away in Techiman, Ghana. Along with another member of the parish, Deacon Larry Coyle, I decided to take him up on it.
The trip that followed changed my preconceptions about the church in Africa, and gave me a new appreciation for the vital role of men like Bishop Nyarko. While they are valued here, these foreign priests tend to be seen as a stopgap for the shortage of diocesan priests. But the journey to Ghana persuaded me that though they are desperately needed in their homeland, they are also needed as missionaries who can link American Catholics to the vitality, sense of mission, and social concerns of the church in Africa.