Fr, John Kwasi Bomah, the current first sacristan of the Basilica of the Annunciation of Nazareth, is 58 years old and comes from Ghana. Fr. John is the witness of a living Franciscanism, through his life and his service in the Holy Land which has lasted for 30 years.
He spent his childhood in Ghana but approached Franciscanism through a friend who entered the Franciscan Order. This marked the start of his adventure walking in the steps of Jesus and St Francis, which led him to serve the Church in the Holy Land.
What struck you about Franciscanism so much that it convinced you to make it your path in life?
My story started in 1972, in Ghana, when I started to see the work of the Conventual Franciscans in my country. Watching them, I had already started to think that this could be where I could find myself.
After this first encounter, I started to read the Franciscan Sources and I felt called by the story of St Francis, by his way of abandoning everything and living inspired by the Holy Gospel which changed his life: like him, I wanted that too. Two of us left, Fr. Gabriel, who now lives in Cyprus, and myself and after us the Bishop of my home diocese started to send two boys each year to get to know Franciscanism better as it is experienced in the Custody. For the time being, ten of us have continued on the Franciscan path.
My desire was only to serve the Lord with simplicity, so my second vocation was that of serving in the Order as a lay brother. It was a natural choice for me, which was the result of the service that I had already carried out in a house in Ghana where priests and the Bishop lived, so I knew what was ahead of me.
Tell us about your path?
We waited eight months for the visa and on 4th October 1987 we left for Rome where the first impact was in a convent with the refectory full of friars. I did the aspirandate and the postulate in Rome, at the college of Terra Sancta in Casalotti.
My novitiate was in Egypt, in Alexandria, in 1988. After the simple profession, we stayed in Cairo for three months and then moved to Bethlehem in 1989. In 1992, after the profession, I was destined to Ein Karem and after three years I was transferred to the Holy Sepulchre where I did my service as sacristan for 12 years. In 2007 I was transferred to Bethlehem for nine years and I have been in Nazareth since 2016.
In my days, those who, like me, were not destined for the priesthood, had to do three years of a different formation compared to the classic path of theological studies of the future priests. The concrete service in the fraternities began at the end of these three years.
What type of service have you carried out?
From the very beginning I was destined to the sacristy, but my service does not only concern the liturgical celebrations, but also welcoming the pilgrims, which is something I am very sensitive to.
I think that great attention has to be paid to welcoming pilgrims. When pilgrims have asked me to remain for the night, at the Holy Sepulchre or in Bethlehem, I have always noticed great emotion, there was always someone who was extremely moved. In particular, in Bethlehem, I saw many people cry from emotion when they realized that they could pray and meditate in the place where Jesus was born. Unfortunately, it is also normal for us not to be able to dedicate ourselves to all the pilgrims with the same intensity, because there are very many of them every day. However, I think that our commitment must be to try and leave positive memories, because the pilgrims came to walk in the places where Jesus walked.
Has your service changed anything in your personal prayer? Are you able to pray?
Of course! Often there is not even any need to look for a perfect moment or to stop working. I think it is enough to have inner peace and then you can pray everywhere and in any situation. Despite the different rhythms that I have experienced, especially at the Sepulchre, I realized how necessary it is to keep a time for prayer and the liturgy of the hours helps in this, because it supports personal prayer and allows fixing some moments during the day to dedicate to the Word of God.
What is your relationship with God?
With my life, I am experiencing that it is true that those who follow the Lord have more peace in their heart. Serving the Lord keeps me in peace, and I am certain that this is my place. Living in these places has helped me and helps me to grow spiritually and constantly look for the Grace and will of the Lord. Certainly, openness of the heart is fundamental to start listening, and I can testify above all after having experienced the unpleasant events that have touched this land in the past thirty years, but Grace overcomes everything.
Is there one important event from your life that has struck you in these years of service?
The stories of pilgrims who arrive here from all over the world have certainly made a great impression on me and every day there are new encounters. For example, when I was at the Holy Sepulchre, some asked me for the oil of the lamps and several, from Japan to Ghana, then told me of real miracles that took place after having received it, gifts obtained thanks to incessant praying.
What is the Holy Land for you?
For me it is the blessed place of Jesus, where He was born and where He died. For me, it is a grace to live here because the whole path of Jesus’ life was here. I would never have imagined being here. The names of the places linked to the story of Jesus had been familiar to me ever since I was small, but being here is truly a special Grace.
What would you say to a person who is seeking their way?
Starting from my experience, I can say that the only thing to do is to start praying and the Lord will open up the way to understanding in which direction to go.
And, after having understood this, you have to commit yourself even more and pray more and more to do what you are called to do, with all your heart.