Imagine only being able to go to Mass every two months; and not because you just don’t feel like it, but rather, because there aren’t enough priests to make the trip to your little parish. That means two months without the Eucharist. Two months without reconciliation. Two months without the guidance and comfort of your parish priest.
That is the reality for most of the parishioners in Fr. Philip Zema’s communities. He, along with just one other missionary, serve the quasi-parish of Mafi-Kumase in Southern Ghana. The Catholic Church has only been present in this area for 30 years. Several Protestant denominations have been in the area much longer making it a challenge for the Catholic Church to make inroads with the older people in the community.
However, Fr. Philip is up for the challenge and loves seeing the children learn and grow in their faith. The area Fr. Philip serves has 40 outstations, or chapels, that serve approximately 1,200 Catholics.
He usually gets invited to a village because the people there need help – often to establish a school or dig a borehole for clean water. Even though many of the people live a comfortable life because of commercial farming, clean drinking water is not always easily accessible. Once the missionaries are established in a village the people begin to see the beauty of the Catholic Church. “They see that the work we do is meaningful,” Fr. Philip said.
Fr. Philip has big plans for his parish. He hopes the diocese of Keta-Akatsi will send more priests to help the Catholic community in his area grow. He wants to train people from the villages to be catechists, bringing the joy of the Catholic Church to their own friends and family. For now, outside teachers help.
Fr. Philip’s Missionary Journey
When Philip Zema decided to become a Comboni Missionary, the decision was providential. Philip was still in high school when he felt the call to become a missionary.
“I saw the good the Comboni Missionaries did for us and wanted to do the same,” he said. “In a way, becoming a Comboni Missionary is gratitude for all they have done for us.”
Philip grew up in Moyo, Uganda, where the Comboni Missionaries have been serving for 100 years. He attended schools built by the missionaries, as did his parents and grandparents. It was a Comboni Missionary who baptized Philip and his entire family.
And it was during the violent reign of Idi Amin that Philip’s parish priest was martyred. While listening to the homily at the funeral Mass for this priest Philip made up his mind to join the Comboni family.
“I was really encouraged by their spirit of solidarity with the people,” he said.
Philip was ordained in 1989. He spent the first six years of his missionary life serving in Togo and Ghana. He returned to Uganda to educate Comboni brothers from 1996-2001. After a sabbatical year in South Africa, Fr. Philip was appointed Pastor in his home diocese of Arua, Uganda where he served for nine years. There he ministered to catechists and small Christian communities. He also started a new parish before returning to his new assignment in Ghana in 2015.