To a chilling message from Pope Benedict XVII, grieving members of the Catholic world and thousands of other mourners yesterday held a requiem mass for 34 members, mostly choristers, who died last week in a fatal accident at the Akropong Junction near Kumasi in the Ashanti Region.
The sorrowful occasion, attended by some Bishops of the Catholic Church and others from the Methodist and Anglican Dioceses, turned tearful when the Apostolic Nuncio, the Most Rev George Kocherry, read the Papal statement in which Pope Benedict said a lot of lives would be saved if drivers exercised some caution on the road.
The Apostolic Nuncio also partnered the Most Rev Dr Peter Akwasi Sarpong, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Kumasi, to officiate at the mass and called one after the other the names of the 34 deceased members to the wailing of family members and loved ones.
Not even the bishops and other senior members of the clergy on the altar could hold back their tears. Intermittently, they were seen using their handkerchiefs to wipe their tears.
In a tribute the Pope said he himself and the entire Catholic community worldwide were shocked and shattered by the tragic death of the members, adding that the departed ones lived for Christ, and also commended the rescuers who went to the aid of the injured.
The 34 coffins containing the mortal remains of the dead were draped in the colours of the church, and lined up on benches at the Roman Catholic School Park, Abuakwa, where the mass was held.
Most Rev Sarpong, accompanied by other clergymen, went round the coffins at about 9.30a.m. and poured holy water on them.
As the Archbishop went round the coffins observing the Catholic doctrines, he and the other reverend ministers bowed before each coffin as a sign of respect for the departed ones of the church who lost their lives while on their way to attend the funeral of a parish priest, who had also died in a motor accident.
Most Rev Sarpong, in his sermon, said many were questioning whether God could not have prevented the accident, and answered himself: “Only God knows why the accident happened”.
Eyewitnesses told the Daily Graphic that the coffins were brought to the grounds from the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital morgue at dawn in three batches of 15, 15 and 4.
Church officials did not make room for the viewing of the bodies as the coffins were closed.
While some mourners spoke against the decision not to allow for public viewing of the bodies, many others saw the decision as appropriate because of the anticipated difficulty in crowd control.
In spite of that, it was still a struggle for mourners to get closer to view the coffins as they were lined up.
The crowd was mammoth; perhaps never seen before in Abuakwa, and a long traffic jam from Kwadaso to Abuakwa, a distance of about four kilometres, was created.
Every available space in the vast area was covered and many who could not get space on the park had to climb trees and uncompleted structures around the area to catch a glimpse of the coffins.
Security personnel detailed to ensure peace and order had a hectic time controlling the surging crowd, and some criminals, who wanted to take advantage of the situation to steal mobile phones, were apprehended by the police.
Immediately the Most Rev Sarpong offered the last prayer to close the mass, pallbearers from families of the deceased persons took the coffins away to their various homes and towns for burial.
Eleven of the dead were from Abuakwa with the rest coming from nearby towns including Apatrapa and Tanoso.
They were killed with two others when their 207 Mercedes Benz bus collided head-on with an Inter-City STC bus, in which two people including the driver were also killed.
Most Rev Sarpong urged the courts to apply the laws against reckless driving to the letter.
The outgoing Ashanti Regional Minister, Mr S. K. Boafo on behalf of the government, presented ¢34 million to the bereaved families.