Tioga parishes pitch in for priest after accident - Catholic Courier

Tioga parishes pitch in for priest after accident

APALACHIN — How’s this for great timing? At the precise moment Father John Yaw Afoakwah was marveling at the love and care he’s received in recent weeks, some parishioners showed up at the St. Margaret Mary rectory with a big tin of lasagna.

"I say, ‘Wow, God is good,’" Father Afoakwah exclaimed.

Since he was in a wheelchair and his left leg was propped up on a chair, Father Afoakwah was glad to not have to worry about fixing dinner on this late-January Friday evening. But how would he serve himself? Not to worry, he said: More folks would be coming by shortly to assist with that part.

It’s hard to picture happiness coming out of a painful and frightening automobile accident, but Father Afoakwah has been counting many blessings thanks to the support of the Blessed Trinity/St. Patrick community.

Father Afoakwah, 55, a native of Ghana, has served since September 2007 as parochial vicar of Tioga County’s parishes. He’s performing pastoral duty as part of a four-year commitment in this diocese while he finishes a master’s degree in education administration at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, with the intent of becoming a high-school principal in his home Diocese of Obuasi.

Those plans were nearly derailed on the morning of Dec. 13, 2009, as Father Afoakwah was driving on Route 17 between Masses at St. James Church in Waverly and St. John the Evangelist Church in Newark Valley.

"It’s a route I go four times a week," he said.

But on this day, what appeared to be a road slicked with rain was actually coated with black ice. Father Afoakwah’s car slid out of control, hit another car and spun off the road. It took 30 minutes for emergency crews to free him, and he was left with a broken leg and a cracked rib. He was transported to Robert Packer Hospital in Sayre, Pa., where he underwent surgery and had a rod inserted in his leg.

After three days he returned to the St. Margaret Mary rectory to begin a lengthy recuperation. Along with considerable physical pain, Father Afoakwah struggled with his suddenly slow-paced lifestyle because it grated against his naturally energetic personality.

"The first two weeks (after the accident) were difficult," he said.

Using a wheelchair, he resumed celebrating daily Masses on Jan. 5.

"I said to myself, ‘Thank God I can begin my ministry.’ It was a joy for me," he said.

Father Afoakwah has since returned to the other Tioga churches as well, thanks to parishioners providing rides. The wounds are healing steadily and he now uses a cane instead of a wheelchair and walker. Father Afoakwah said he looks forward to driving again soon, although he has to get a new car since the other one was totaled.

He noted that he’s been showered with food, get-well cards, messages, prayers, gifts and visits — even families who showed up on Christmas Eve singing carols.

"People want to come and help me dress my wounds in the morning," he said, calling the parishioners’ support "simply overwhelming." He referred to these people as angels, pointing out that he doesn’t have a biological family nearby to assist with his recuperation.

"Although I’m far from home, I’ve found another family," Father Afoakwah said. "God has provided another family for me."

He’s enjoyed having meals delivered to his doorstep — "I love pizza," he said — but also was elated to discover one day in January that he could prepare a simple meal, such as breakfast, by maneuvering around the kitchen in his wheelchair.

"It was the most liberating moment — ‘Yeah, I’ve done it,’" he said, stretching his arms wide and smiling.

Father Afoakwah said he’s also gotten through his ordeal by embracing such Scripture passages as 1 Thessalonians 5:18 — "In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus," and Romans 8:28 — "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."

"We are Christians, and we believe through prayer that God is with us and he journeys with us," Father Afoakwah said. "So whatever happens, good or bad, God is with you."

Father Afoakwah likened his parishioners’ helpful ways with relief efforts in earthquake-torn Haiti, where "it’s a disaster but people are giving hope. God wants people to give hope and that’s what God is doing here, too."

He cited another parallel between his mishap and Haiti’s: the speed at which one’s life circumstances can change drastically.

"Life is not a matter of hours and days. Life is a matter of seconds," he remarked. "You need to thank God every second, because in a second life can change. Life is fragile. We’re living by the grace of God."

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