PRESIDENT John Agyekum Kufuor has eulogised the former Metropolitan Archbishop of Kumasi, the Most Rev Peter Akwasi Sarpong, as an honest and fearless man who has earned the respect and admiration of his countrymen.
He said apart from being a man of God, scholar and staunch traditionalist, there had been times in the nation's political history when the retired Archbishop became the voice of the voiceless.
President Kufuor, who was speaking at a special High Mass to celebrate the retirement of the Most Rev Sarpong in Kumasi yesterday, recalled how the Archbishop had strongly fought against the introduction of "Union Government" by the late General Acheampong.
As a result of his strong stance against the Acheampong regime, Mr Kufuor said, Archbishop Sarpong was called names, but "he bore the insults with grace, in tune with his conviction as a Christian leader".
Archbishop Sarpong retired this year after 50 years in the priesthood of the Catholic Church, 30 years of which he served as a bishop.
He was credited with a number of initiatives in the church, especially in the metropolitan archdiocese, including the establishment of schools and health facilities and the infusion of productive traditional beliefs into Catholicism.
President Kufuor noted that the integration of traditional beliefs into Christianity provided a real insight into life and what God expected of the people.
He emphasised that since God created people in His own image, it would be misplaced to downgrade the culture of any group of people.
"In the past, evangelists sought to make us turn our back on our traditional ways of life," he said, and commended Archbishop Sarpong for the studies he made into Ghanaian culture, which confirmed that life as a Ghanaian and that as a Christian were intertwined.
Himself a Catholic, President Kufuor noted that his life had been shaped, to a very large extent, by the advice and encouragement of the Most Rev Sarpong.
The President recalled how Archbishop Sarpong visited him and other detainees at the Ussher Fort prison after the overthrow of the Busia administration in 1972, stressing, "And typical of him, the archbishop demonstrated love and care and we appreciated that immensely",
"I am also very proud and privileged to state that we first met at Oxford University in 1962-1963 when we were both students," the President said, and added that they had developed special love for each other since that time.
Touching on Archbishop Sarpong's academic prowess, the President said, "Academia is generally richer by the many scholarly contributions from him."
He expressed the hope that the retirement of the archbishop would not be the end of the work God asked him to do on earth.
On behalf of President Kufuor, the Ashanti Regional Minister, Mr E.A. Owusu-Ansah, presented an undisclosed amount of money to the retired archbishop.
The Omanhene of Acherensua, Agyewodin Adu Gyamfi Ampem, who represented the Asantehene, Otumfuo Osei Tutu II, said Otumfuo appreciated the valuable work the Most Rev Sarpong did for God and mankind in his long years as a priest.
He expressed the hope that the Most Rev Sarpong would continue to offer other services to his nation even on retirement.
Agyewodin Ampem gave the assurance that at the appropriate time Otumfuo would honour the retired archbishop.
The Most Rev Sarpong, who said the mass, the last to be performed by him, was grateful to President Kufuor and the Asantehene for the support given him in his long years of service.
In attendance was the Metropolitan Archbishop of Kumasi, the Most Rev Thomas Mensah.