Homily Thanksgiving Mass At Fontem
THANKSGIVING MASS AT ST. CLARE’S PARISH FONTEM ON THE OCCASION OF MY MAIDEN VISIT TO LEBIALEM DIVISION
7TH DECEMBER, 2013
My Lord, Bishop Francis Lysinge of Mamfe
My Lord Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo,
The SDO Lebialem Division and other civil authorities,
Rev. Fathers bothers and sisters,
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I want to start this Homily by paying tribute to two special people in my life as a priest and who have impacted the growth of Christianity in the Bangwa land.;
The first is late Catechist Matthias Anu (Nkemalebu) from Letia, who for a long time stood as the symbol of Christianity in the entire Bangwa land. He taught doctrine and visited outstations to bring the word of God to people. He always prayed for vocations to the priesthood from the Bangwa land and thanks to the prayers of people like this, Fr. Charles Acha was ordained in 1962. When John Paul II visited Cameroon in 1985, Pa Anu went to Bamenda and the Pope gave him a Rosary. When I came to Fontem to say my first Mass as a priest in 1992, Pa Anu gave me that Rosary to continue praying for the growth of Christianity in this land. I have the Rosary still with me today and my being here as a Bishop from Lebialem is the fruit of prayers with that Rosary.
The second person I will like the pay tribute to is Mafua Ndem Chiara Lubich. When Chiara Lubich came to Fontem in 1966, to lay the foundation stone for the hospital, she went to the palace to meet Fon Defang. She writes that when she was with the Fon and some of the Bekems in the large clearing in the forest she had a strange impression; she says, “it seemed to me that God, like the sun, was enveloping all of us, Focolarini and Bangwa together; and that the sun, almost like a divine sign, made me foresee the rising of a city that we would build together”. This feeling and vision of Chiara was a divine prophecy. For who would imagine in those dark days of paganism, that while Chiara was making this declaration, a child was born somewhere who would become the first Bangwa Bishop 47 years after prophecy? For this reason, when I was appointed I went to pray at the grave of Chiara in Castel-gandolfo in Italy.
I thank God for the influence of these two people in my life and the life of the growth of Christianity in the entire Lebialem Division and the Fontem Deanery.
Many of my friends told me that they heard I am going to Fontem for home coming as a Bishop, and I all the time replied that I was going to Fontem to celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving with the entire population of Fontem Deanery, comprising of Mbetta, Nzachen, Besali, Nkongle, Mockmbie, Fonjumetaw, Fotabong, Azi and Menji. The whole of Mamfe Diocese is my home and Lebialem is part of this diocese so I cannot go from home to home. You will understand this better as I go on with this homily. I have come so that together we can thank God who never abandons his people; who has come into the heart of the forest and called one of you to the office of Bishop. This is not because of any merit of ours but simply out of the love that God has for our people. Otherwise, what have the Bangwa people really done to deserve a Bishop? We are not the most holy tribe or even the most prayerful. We can only understand what God has done for our people in the background of what St. Paul says in 1 Cor.27-31; “No, it was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning; and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen – those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything…. As Scripture says, ‘If anyone wants to boast, let him boast in the Lord’.” Don’t boast in yourselves my dear people, that you have a Bishop, but boast in the Lord, this means, give praise and glory to God.
I have come to thank you all for the support you all gave me during my Episcopal ordination. You frightened me with your too much generosity, too much support and too much love. I felt the unity and strength of the Lebialem people in particular and the Fontem Deanery in general, as there was no discrimination of village or tribal affiliations, no political considerations, when it came to doing anything to make my ordination successful. When I look at the Bishops, the priests, Religious and all of you who have braved the bad roads to be here today for this Mass of thanksgiving, I understand better what Jesus meant when he said in John 15:13; “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends”. By being here you are laying down your lives for me, and I am very thankful. Like the Apostle Paul says in the second reading of today, “I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received through Jesus Christ. I thank him thtat you have been enriched in so many ways, especially in your teachers and preachers”. Jesus promises you and will reward you as he said in Mtt.10:40-42; “ Anyone who welcome you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me. Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will have a prophet’s reward; and anyone who welcomes a holy man because he is a holy man will have a holy man’s reward. If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is a disciple, then I tell you solemnly, he will most certainly not lose his reward” I am proud of all of you and you will forever remain in my prayers and God will bless you.
Who is a Bishop?
You are all happy that God has called a bishop from among you and this is a good thing, but who is a Bishop? Many people are only happy and looking at the Bishop as a human promotion and a big man in the society. A bishop is one called by God to take care of his flock and to be ready to lay down his life for his sheep. The Church teaches us that the Bishop is the successor of the twelve Apostles of Jesus. This is what we pray in the creed when we say that we believe in the church that is one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic. This means that the succession of every bishop must be traced back to one of the Apostles. This is the great thing that one of the Apostles of Christ is a Bangwa man. You can trace my line back to one of the Apostles through the Nuncio who ordained me. So with All the Popes, starting from Francis, through Benedict, John Paul II to St. Peter and ultimately Jesus Christ. This means that in his own diocese, every Bishop of the Vicar of Christ and what did Christ do?
The gospel of this morning tells us that “Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom and curing all kinds of diseases and sickness.” The text goes on to say that “He then summon his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits with power to cast them out and to cure all kinds of diseases and sickness….. As you go, proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils. You received without charge, give without charge”. This is what Jesus has called me through the Church to do, and it is good for all of you to understand.
The Church has attributed three main works to the Bishop; to teach, to sanctify and to govern. The main task of the Bishop is to preach the gospel and teach doctrine so that the people may know God, love God, work for God and be happy with him for ever in heaven.
The second work of the Bishop is to sanctify the people of God. Jesus tells us in the gospel to be Holy for our father in heaven is holy. The Bishops sanctify through the sacraments as these are sure means of grace to our souls.
Lastly the Bishop is called to govern the people of God within a particular territory and lead them to heaven. My work is therefore to guide all of you to heaven and I must do this in fear and trembling so that I do not lose my own salvation (Phil.2:12).
How can we support our new Bishop who is our son and father?
-Prayers: You people will support me with your prayers daily. It is because the Bishops needs too much prayers that the Church made it in a way that his name is called in all the Masses celebrated in his diocese daily. Jesus saw the need to pray for Simon, the head of the Apostles, and he said to him; “Simon, Simon! Look, Satan has got his wish to sift you all like wheat; but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail, and once you have recovered, you in turn must strengthen your brothers”(Lk.22:32). The Bishop needs to be strong in faith so as to strengthen the faith of the Christians in his diocese. St. Paul says in 2 Cor.4:7 that “We are only earthenware jars that hold such treasure. To make abundantly clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us”.
-Don’t expect favours more than other parts of the diocese; When I said I was not doing home coming because my home is the whole diocese, this is what I meant. I must not feel more close to the Fontem Deanery than the rest of the diocese, but you will not be neglected either. This is very difficult and the Church knows this. In the whole country, we are only two Bishops out of the 25, whom the Pope has appointed to work in their areas of origin. This means that the Pope expects me to exercise extraordinary and heroic virtues to rise above tribalism, nepotism and favouritism. If the Pope thinks I can do this, then you must help me do it.
-Materially support me to help the diocese; The Diocese is big and we are still very young. This means that we still have a lot of development work to do in the diocese. I will be calling meetings to help us financially support and build our diocese and I expect maximum cooperation from all of you. This I am not really begging you because canon 222 says every Christian has the duty to economically support the church and the 7th law of the Church says, “Help Bishops and Fathers”.
-Feel free to talk to me if I go wrong because my failure is a failure of our tribe and people and my success is our success.
Now that we have a Bishop, What way forward? We must start living like people who have a Bishop called from among them. We must seek to reconstruct complete and unconditional Unity between Lewoh and Lebang people; we nust reinstate the brotherhood of the Nweh and Mundani people; the mbo people and the Nguti people; We must seek to build reconciliation in families; we must see true reconciliation between traditional rulers and also among villages; We must look at everybody in the Diocese of Mamfe as the same, and as St. Paul says in Colossians 3:11 “there is no room for distinction between Greek and Jew, between the circumcised and the uncircumcised, or between the barbarian and Scythian, slave and free. There is only one Christ: he is everything and he is in everything”. This what we are celebrating today.
We have a Bishop from among us, and it is a good thing, but Let us not rejoice for the wrong reasons. We read in Lk.8:19-21 that “His mother and his brothers came looking for him, but they could not get to him because of the crowd. He was told ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside and want to see you. But he said in answer, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice”. Today I will want to borrow the words of Our blessed Mother Mary in John 2:5 when he said to the stewards at the marriage feast at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you”. This is my advice to all of you who have come here today. As you return to your homes, let us pray through the intercession of St. Ambrose, whose feast we celebrate today, to do whatever Jesus tells you to do, so that after our earthly span is done, we all may be united in heaven, where Jesus lives and reigns with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, One God forever and ever. Amen.
Coadjutor Bishop of Mamfe