By Philip Saine
The recent funerals of Rev. Fr. Louis Thomas Mendy and Peter Solomon Gomez have been described as ‘double tragedies’ in the Diocese of Banjul. However, soon after the expression of deep sorrow, it became apparent that these were rather ‘double triumphs’ for the Diocese of Banjul. History reveals that following the introduction of the Catholic faith in The Gambia these Gambian priests were ordained; Fr. Gabriel Samba in 1869; Fr. Joseph Charles Mendy in 1924 and, Fr. Thomas Gregory JOBE in October 1933; except for Fr. Joseph Mendy who was the first locally trained and ordained Gambian priest all others took place outside the shores of the Gambia.
Fr. Louis Thomas Mendy C.S.Sp was born on 5th March 1966 in Falla, a small village near Kunkujang in The Gambia. He died in Scotland on 19th June 2021 where he was also buried. He made history being the 1st Gambian Priest to die and buried in the United Kingdom. This was the beginning of a reverse situation when Irish missionaries laid their lives in the Gambia; now Gambian missionaries die for the British and buried in a Scottish cemetery. He demonstrated the active global evangelization that The Gambia embarked upon. Within a relatively short period the diocese witnessed yet another funeral, that of Rev. Fr. Peter Solomon Gomez, one of the first Gambian Priests ordained in the Gambia and buried in the Banjul Christian Cemetery at the Crucifix where Irish forefather missionaries that died in The Gambia were buried.
Rev. Fr. Peter Gomez was a son of Dimingo Gomez and Harriet Sambou and was born at 24 Hagan Street in Bathurst/Banjul on the 21st July 1955. Together with Fr. Anthony Gabisi he was ordained on 13th April 1985 by the late Bishop Emeritus Michael Cleary. This occasion opened an exciting new chapter (building a self-reliant church) in the history of the Diocese of Banjul. He served as a Vicar General, became the first Gambia Administrator at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. He carried out his missionary work in several parishes including St Francis parish in 2008 where he replaced Fr. Jackie Sharpe CSSp, the priest who inspired him into the priesthood. Fr. Peter would be remembered for his gentle footsteps, soft and calm voice, short but very effective sermons and eloquence in the Wolof language. He was naturally quiet with a wonderful sense of humour. On Wednesday 1st July 2021 Fr. Peter Gomez was called to the Lord for eternity after serving the Catholic Diocese of Banjul for 37 years. It was a big loss to the diocese; not an end of his life but a transition into glory.
The Vigil Services – was held on Thursday 15th July at the St. Kizito’s Church in Bakoteh. During the Prayers of Intersession symbolic articles were presented and these included a Bible, Chalice, Stole and Candlelight.
The Funeral held at the St. Therese’s Church in Kanifing started with reception of the corps outside at the entrance of the church. Bishop Gabriel CSSp (the first Gambian Catholic Bishop of Banjul) led the prayers in front of the priests, religious and lay faithful. The huge crowd that participated in this funeral was unprecedented in Gambian recent history. The church was full to capacity. Mourners overflowed the church and were seated under tents around the perimeter of the church and into the parish compound. In attendance were the Catholic clergy led by Bishop Gabriel, heads of the other churches, church representations from Senegal and Guinea Bissau, Also present were the Gambian 1st Lady, cabinet Ministers and political party representations, Gambian Christians and non-Christians. The church seats were rearranged and decorated to accommodate the religious groups, government delegation and foreign dignitaries.
The St. Pope John Paul 2nd Choral Group sang a combination of Gregorian, English and Local hymns reflecting a spiritual, sorrowful and celebrated event. The hymns ‘Libera Me’ and ‘Agalil Fi Yov Ka Nyu Sopa’ were appropriately selected.
The Sermon – Fr. Edu Gomez was asked by Bishop Gabriel to give the Homily for the occasion. Fr. Edu greeted all and thanked God and the Bishop for everything, He reminded the mourners that there was time for everything. He recounted the 37 years Fr. Peter had serving the church. Both of them had joint experience working for more than 10 years at St. Therese Parish where the funeral took place. The posture of Fr. Edu, his tone of voice and message content reminded all that he was still the ‘Voice of the Voiceless, the Poor and the Underprivileged’. He addressed both Church and State including the Bishop and politicians. He reminded state authorities that they were mere leaders owning nothing; and as such should care for the people. He further observed that the poor were found along streets having nobody to care for them. Fr. Edu recounted the active participation of charitable organizations namely St Vincent de Paul that had the reputation of alleviating poverty by providing food and shelter to the needy. Such organizations, he said, should continue to compliment government’s effort to improve on socio-economic status of people. At the end of the funeral mass the priests mournfully carried the coffin on their shoulders from the church to the funeral van and later into the grave.
The burial and condolences – The remains of Fr. Peter was finally laid to rest at the Banjul Christian Cemetery at the Crucifix where Irish Forefather missionaries that died in The Gambia were buried. History was still been made by Fr. Peter. He became the first Gambian Priest since 1932 to be buried in that enclave of the Christian cemetery. The 1st Lady, Mrs. Fatoumata Bah Barrow, was conspicuously in deep mourning; she was at the vigil service, funeral and burial. She showed gratitude and honour to the priest that adopted and sponsored her while she lived in the Upper River Division (URD).
Condolences were received at Bishop Michael Cleary Hall at St. Augustine’s School Grounds. Bishop Gabriel, the chief mourner, received all the mourners who gathered, in conformity to Gambian culture, expressing their sorrow.
Fr. Peter Gomez was a devoted priest who attended to all parishioners despite their occupation and social status. He made himself available for the sacrament of reconciliation whenever needed. He gave generously to the needy and was often regarded as ‘the bank that makes payments but receives no deposits’. We will forever remember Revd. Fr. Peter Gomez nicknamed PP The Manager. Witnesses at Fr. Peter’s ordination and funeral had this to say – “We cried with joy on your ordination and cried with great sadness on your departure because it was too soon. Start your journey to be with your Lord and Master then Rest in Perfect Eternal Peace”.