The new priest for Warialda, Bingara and Barraba, Father Joseph Armah, will divide his time between the three towns. Originally from Ghana, Father Joseph said he needs to spend time in all the three towns, rather than just visit to say Mass.
After Easter, he will begin his program of spending two weeks in Warialda, a week in Bingara, and a week in Barraba.
Also on his watch are the churches at Delungra and Upper Horton.
Father Joseph arrived in Australia on 1st January, 2014, and went straight to Armidale, and worked with Bishop Michael Kennedy. After 10 days, it was time to go to Moree where he was to spend the next two years. Father Joseph said he was nervous about his new posting. The distance from Armidale to Moree, three hours by car, was greater than he had ever done in Ghana.
“Why are you doing this, are they going to accept you, how will I find life?” were questions whirling through his mind.
When he arrived in Moree, and was met by Father Paul McCabe, he was immediately put at ease. “He said ‘Hi Maaate’, (with emphasis on the long ‘a’), and once I learned that ‘mate’ means ‘friend’, I knew I had nothing to worry about,” Father Joseph said.
Part of his posting included looking after churches in Mungindi, Boomi, North Star, Pallamallawa, Bellata and Garah.
Father Joseph knew at a very young age he was going to become a priest. He attended a minor seminary, which is like a high school, before going on to the major seminary where he studied philosophy and theology. He has a BA in Sociologies and Studies of religion, and has a post graduate Diploma in Education.
When he was due to become a deacon, Father Joseph said his Bishop asked him to leave the seminary and work in the community for one year.
He found a job with a non government organisation and went to rural communities where he worked assessing the impact of development training. For the first time in his life, Father Joseph said, he was alone. After a year of working in the community, he returned, and was ordained.
His first appointment was in a big city. “It was a medium sized parish, as Chaplin in a high school with 1500 students, I taught social studies and religious education, and ended up being the Chaplin to the whole school,” Father Joseph said. He also worked at the University in spiritual activities.
After 12 years, Father Joseph felt the need for a break, so he took sabbatical leave, and thought about where he should go. “USA is a popular destination for Ghanaians, but I had read Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds, and was fascinated”, he said. “It did not occur to me that Australia would be so far away.”
Father Joseph wrote to several priests, and Bishop Michael Kennedy, from the Armidale Diocese, wrote back. There were a few hurdles though. His local Bishop had retired and he needed to get permission to take the new job.
Then there were internet problems, and Father Joseph did not receive Bishop Kennedy’s emails as he was in an isolated area, and had to drive to Cape Coast to check his emails.
So, as he had not replied, Bishop Kennedy rang, and arrangements were made to Father Joseph to come to the Armidale diocese.
He has found Australia to be a very good country, with wonderful people.
After his two-year stint in Moree, Father Joseph spent 11 months in Tamworth, assisting Father ‘Joe’ Adriano.
Father Joseph, who grew up in a small fishing community, missed the sea and the hills, so when he moved to Tamworth, was happy to see hills again. Now in his new role, he can further enjoy hills as he travels between the towns.
Father Joseph described his childhood as ‘very good’. “My father was a fisherman, and he owned a coconut plantation, our village was like one big household,” he said.
Ghana at that time, was going through a period of political uncertainty and military intervention, as “They were tough times for us, things are better now, but still not good,” he said.
With five churches and their congregations to look after, Father Joseph is kept busy.
Mass is held at Warialda every Saturday at 6pm, 8am Sunday in Bingara and 10am in Barraba, and at 5pm in Delungra. Mass is held at Upper Horton at 5pm on the last Sunday of each month.
Father Joseph said he loves being here. “I’m not a city person. I feel accepted, and already I feel at home. It’s people who make you feel included, and that is good,” Father Joseph said.