SOME did not understand why, as a clergyman of no mean repute, the Most Reverend Peter Akwasi Sarpong should have so much affection for African traditional religion.
A traditionalist par excellence, he moved for the inculcation of African traditions into the Catholic way of worship and today things have changed in the church, as traditional drums like atumpan are played during the celebration of mass.
Last Friday, one of the most revered clergymen to emerge from the land, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Kumasi, the Most Rev Sarpong, officially retired after 50 years’ service to the Catholic faith, Christianity and Ghana.
Thirty-eight years of his priesthood saw him as Bishop of Kumasi.
The first time I came into contact with the Most Rev Sarpong was some time in 1974. At that time the Kumasi Diocese covered the Ashanti and Brong Ahafo regions.
Then a little boy at the Goaso Roman Catholic Primary School, I went through the Catholic confirmation at Mim, the parish under which Goaso fell then.
I vividly remember attending the ceremony with a white cloth belonging to my mother (now deceased), who was a staunch Catholic.
As I knelt down before the huge frame of Bishop Sarpong for him to perform the sacred ceremony with oil, his deep male voice cut through the inside of my body and when all was over I came out as a fully-fledged Catholic.
That was just a small part of a man whose credentials every true Catholic is proud of.
No wonder the President, Mr John Agyekum Kufuor, showered tonnes of glory on him at his farewell mass in Kumasi last Thursday.
Just hear the President: "Bishop Sarpong is almost unique among others of his calling. He is not only a man of God but also a scholar and a thoroughbred traditionalist, a veritable son of the soil."
Born on February 26, 1933 at Maase-Offinso in the Ashanti Region, the Most Rev Sarpong attended the Offinso-Maase Catholic School, the St Joseph's School at Bechem and then the St Teresa's Minor Seminary and Major Seminary at Amisano.
He also schooled at the University of St Thomas Aquinas in Rome and the Oxford University. He holds a doctorate in Sacred Theology and a Masters in Social Anthropology.
With such rich educational background, it is not surprising that the Most Rev Sarpong took much interest in education during his priesthood in the Catholic Church.
He was once a part-time tutor of Opoku Ware School, St Louis Secondary School, Holy Child Secondary School and Archbishop Porter Girls' Secondary School in Takoradi.
He was also once the Rector of the St Peter's Seminary, Cape Coast. In fact, he was the first African to head any major or minor seminary in Ghana.
An education fund he helped to initiate in the church has been in existence for over 30 years and many needy children have benefited from it.
The Most Rev Sarpong has also assisted in securing scholarships for many young ones to study abroad in various fields of education.
These and many others place him as one of the pillars of education in the Catholic faith and, indeed, the entire nation.
Evangelism remained the core of his life and he never joked with it.
People who have seen the Most Rev Sarpong celebrate mass know he does it with such finesse that he has won many converts into the Catholic faith.
His efforts at national development have also seen him initiating several projects in the health, educational and income-generating spheres.
Mention can be made of the numerous Catholic health institutions in Ashanti, as well as some in the Brong Ahafo Region.
I remember that in my childhood days at Goaso the only hospital in the entire Ahafo area was the St Elizabeth Hospital at Hwidiem. It offered valuable services to the people of the entire Ahafo area and even today it is one of the major health institutions in the entire Brong Ahafo Region.
The Catholic Church believes in empowering people to undertake income-generating activities to improve their lot. The church believes that addressing economic challenges is one sure way of expanding evangelism.
Consequently, the Kumasi Archdiocese, under the Most Rev Sarpong, encouraged the establishment of co-operative credit unions throughout the diocese, which have gone a long way to bring happiness to many people through support for their businesses.
Some saw him as a politician because of the way he criticised the bad policies of some governments in the past, but he was not.
The Most Rev Sarpong detests oppression and bad governance, and that was why he fiercely challenged the late General Kutu Acheampong when he wanted to introduce the Union Government.
The archbishop also hit against some of the bad policies of the PNDC government.
As he bows out from his long years in the priesthood, many will miss his unique qualities, but as President Kufuor said, even in retirement, Ghanaians would be happy to benefit from the Most Rev Sarpong’s wisdom.