The Church and The Reunification of Cameroon
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN CAMEROON AND THE REUNIFICATION OF CAMEROON BY RT. REV. ANDREW NKEA, COADJUTOR BISHOP OF MAMFE
I. INTRODUCTION: God has given over the charge of the human communities to two powers, the Church and the State, the one being set over religious and divine things, the other over temporal needs. Each in its kind is supreme; each has fixed limits within which it is contained, limits which are defined by the nature and special objects of each community. The Catholic Church by its very essence and nature is geared towards the preaching of the Gospel and the promotion of the Kingdom of God here on earth. It is important to note that while particular Churches exist within civil territorial boundaries, the mission of the Church surpasses any territorial limitation, according to the instructions of Christ who said to his Apostles: “Go forth to the whole world and preach the Gospel to every nation” (Mk.16:15).
Although the mission of the Church is not political, she functions within the territorial circumscription of independent States, and as such, her history is always linked to the political history of a given State. However, it is important to note that the history of the Church in Cameroon, cannot be essentially linked to the political history of Cameroon, because of the way the Gospel and Missionaries cut across both national and international boundaries of Cameroon.
When we talk of the Catholic Church and the reunification of Cameroon, therefore, it goes without saying that unity is part of the very essence of the Church, and that is why reunification is an evangelical value. The problem about the reunification of Cameroon is a political rather than an ecclesiastical question, because the preaching of the gospel and the functioning of the Church in Cameroon has never been conditioned by political, linguistic or even cultural lines, but influenced by the universal call to holiness of all peoples. Very significant therefore is the fact that when the first Missionaries, the Pallottine Fathers, led by Mgr. Heinrich Vieter, landed in Cameroon in 1890 and founded the first Catholic Mission Station in Marienburg, the second station to be founded was Bonjongo in 1894. By divine Providence, the first station was in the later territory of French Cameroun and the second was in the later territory of Southern Cameroons.
Historians tell us that “By 1904, when the Prefecture Apostolic of German Kamerum was raised to the status of a Vicariate, Mission stations had been established in what was to become British Southern Cameroons at Bonjongo in 1894, Ikassain 1906 and Sasse in 1907…. Other Mission stations were started in Bota in 1908, Ossing in 1912. Besides these, the Pallottines opened up in East Cameroon at Kribi and Edea in 1891, Douala in 1898, Batanga in 1900, Yaounde in 1901, Minlaba in 1907, Dschang in 1910 and Deido in Douala in 1913”(1) This was a single vast territory in which there was a massive work of evangelization to be done and there was no thought of division.
Later on in 1914 when the Prefecture of Adamawa was created, this stretched out from the Bamenda Division as far as Chad, and the Sacred Heart Fathers who had arrived Kumbo in 1912 and set up their headquarters in Shisong, took charge under Mgr. Joseph Lennartz. And so the length and breadth of the territory from Bamenda to Chad was united under the same ecclesiastical circumscription for the easy spread of the Gospel in Cameroon. When First World War broke out in 1914 and the German Pallottine Missionaries had to leave the country, it was a difficult time of evangelization, but Bishop Joseph Shanahan who had been appointed Prefect Apostolic of Eastern Nigeria toured the entire territory of Southern Cameroons and gave the Sacrament of Confirmation as far as Douala. The spread of the faith and the administration of the sacraments had no boundaries. This went on until the arrival of the Mill Hill Missionaries to whom the charge was given over Southern Cameroons and the creation of the Apostolic Prefecture of Buea in 1922 under Mgr. William Campling. “Soon after his arrival at Kumbo, Mgr. Plissonneau with his staff….left for Dschang in French Cameroun, where the French Sacred Heart Fathers were established and had a mission station” (Ibid. 51).
With this smooth transition from the Sacred Heart Fathers to the Mill Hill Missionaries and the consolidation of division by the League of Nations in 1926, the Churches in Southern Cameroons and French Cameroun began to function under different hierarchies.
II. COLLABORATION BETWEEN THE CHURCH HIERARCHY OF FRENCH CAMEROUN AND BIRITISH CAMEROONS
The Apostolic Vicariate of Buea was raised to a Diocese on April 18th , 1950 as a Suffragan See under the Archdiocese of Onitsha, with Mgr. Peter Rogan as the First Bishop. Buea was thus the first Diocese to be created in the whole of the territory of Cameroon. Then followed the Dioceses of Douala, Nkongsamba, Yaounde, Garoua and Doume on the 14th of September, 1955. Yaounde was raised to an Archdiocese. In April 1955 the territory’s five Roman Catholic Bishops, all of them Europeans, attempted to counteract both the influence of the UPC and the notion that the hierarchy supported every aspect of French policy. In a common Letter read in all the Churches on Easter day and affirming the legitimacy of independence for Cameroon, the Bishops declared “These desires of the Cameroonians to take progressively in hand the direction of their country and to lead it towards a free, honest, and prosperous life, the Church can only recognize as just and well founded and encourage them, provided that they respect the great laws of the Evangelist: Truth, justice, wisdom and charity” (3).
In 1960, Bishop Thomas Mongo of Douala was among those who agreed to serve on the constitutional committee for the new state of Cameroun that was to be born. Bishop Mongo represented the Church’s ideals to the full and in the course of the deliberations of the Committee, the Bishop resigned from the Committee. Gardinier writes that “The Catholic Prelate claimed that the proposed constitution did not take account of the spiritual heritage of the Cameroonians and that the secular state which it envisioned, constituted a rejection of God”(4). Without passing a judgment on the action of the Prelate, it is clear that from the very inception of the State of Cameroon, the drawing up of the constitution, the Church has been involved through various consultative and expert bodies.
With the retirement of Bishop Peter Rogan he was replaced by Bishop Jules Peeters on the 24th of August 1962. At the Episcopal consecration of Bishop Jules Peeters, Bishop Rogan was the principal Consecrator, and Archbishops Charles Heerey of Onitsha and Jean Zoa of Yaounde were the co-consecrators. This was the action of one Church under one Head, Jesus Christ. With the reunification of Cameroon in 1961, Buea was detached from the Archdiocese of Onitsha, Nigeria, and attached to the Archdiocese of Yaounde. This was a very great step towards the reunification of the State of Cameroon. With this move, the Vatican had created a united National Episcopal Conference for Cameroon, and thus gave the Bishops the possibility for concerted action.
Dr. Atem George writes that “When Rev. Fr. Albert Ndongmo was consecrated as Bishop of Nkongsamba on the 16th of August, 1964, Bishop Jules Peeters of the Diocese of Buea was there with some prominent Anglophones, among whom was the Vice President of Cameroon, Dr. J.N. Foncha……On Sunday 5th April 1970, Rev. Father Ngande Denis, was consecrated Bishop of Bafoussam Diocese by Bishop Albert Ndongmo of Nkongsamba, assisted by Bishop Mongo of Douala and Bishop Jules Peeters of the Diocese of Buea. The presence of Bishop Jules Peeters from West Cameroon was an indication of the cooperation and the spirit of unity that the Diocese of Buea had with the Catholic Church, East of the Mungo” (5). The Historian goes on to say that “On 8th November, 1970 Rev. Fr. Paul Verdzekov was consecrated Bishop of Bamenda Diocese by Bishop Jules Peeters of Buea Diocese. Present at the consecration were Bishops from East Cameroon. They included Jean Zoa of Yaounde, Thomas Mongo of Douala, Paul Etoga of Mbalmayo, Pierre Celestin Nkou of Sangmelima, Ngande of Baoussam, Lambert Van Heggen of Doume, and Loucheur of Bafia. The massive attendance of Bishops from East Cameroon illustrated the unity of the Catholics in the unified Cameroon” (6). This was also true of the Episcopal consecration of Bishop Pius Awa in 1971 in Buea as Coadjutor Bishop of Buea, to eventually replace Bishop Jules Peeters.
III. FROM COLLABORATION TO NATIONAL INTEGRATION
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “The Church, in Christ, is like a sacrament – a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men. The Church’s first purpose is to be the sacrament of the inner union of men with God. Because men’s communion with one another is rooted in that union with God, the Church is also the sacrament of the unity of the human race. In her, this unity is already begun, since she gathers men ‘from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues’, at the same time, the church is the sign and instrument of the full realization of the unity yet to come”(7). This helps us to understand that in the functioning of the Church in any place on earth, the Church moves more towards unity than disunity, towards love than hatred, towards integration than disintegration, at the same time, propagating the values of justice, peace, equality and respect for all. This is why the Catholic Church reserves the right to choose her pastors, irrespective of nationality, race or tribe, to serve the people of God in their spiritual needs. This puts the Church as a leader not only in mutual collaboration in the pastoral ministry within the nation, but also in national integration.
With the creation of the St. Thomas Aquinas’ Major Seminary, Bambui, on the 3rd of December, 1973, by Bishops Verdzekov and Awa, the Bishops of East Cameroon immediately started sending seminarians from the Francophone background to study in Bambui seminary in English, under the first Rector, Fr. Christian Tumi, who although was from the Anglophone Cameroon, had studied in Lyons in France and in Fribourg in Switzerland. Atem George again notes that “On 6th December, 1979, His Holiness Pope John Paul II appointed Rev. Fr. Christian Wighan Tumi, who was Rector of Bambui Major Seminary, to be Bishop of a francophone territory of Yagoua in the Far North Province of Cameroon”(8). It must be noted that Bishop Tumi further became Archbishop of Garoua Archdiocese, still in the Francophone north of Cameoon. “On the 29th of September, 1991 he was installed in Douala as Archbishop. In Yagoua, he was replaced by Rev. Fr. Immanuel Bushu, another Anglophone who became Bishop of Yagoua. The appointment of Anglophone Bishops in the Francophone territory illustrated the role of the Catholic Church in fostering the spirit of oneness in Cameroon”(9).
The existence of the St. Thomas Aquinas for the past 40 years has been a great symbol of national integration in Cameroon, as hundreds of Francophone seminarians have been trained in this seminary for service in the Church in the Francophone Cameroon. Bishop Dieudonne Bogmis of Eseka, Bishop Sosthene Bayemi of Obala, and Mgr. Sebastian Mongo, Secretary General of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon, are products of the St. Thomas Aquinas’ Major Seminary, Bambui.
Now, the Bishops of Anglophone Cameroon are also sending Anglophone seminarians to the major seminaries in Bafoussam, Douala, Yaounde, Bertoua, and Maroua.
With the existence of a single Episcopal Conference in Cameroon, the unity of the Church stands supreme when it comes to issues of national integration and reunification. Although the majority of the Bishops in the conference are Francophone, three Anglophone Bishops have been Presidents of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon, namely, late Archbishop Paul Verdzekov, Cardinal Christian Tumi, and Archbishop Cornelius Esua. The present Bureau of the National Episcopal conference voted in April 2013, saw Francophone Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala as President and Anglophone Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo as Vice President.
The workers at the Secretariat of the National Conference is also an indicator of the unity of the Church in Cameroon, as they are drawn from all Dioceses within the national territory and appointed to functions, irrespective of the linguistic origins.
From the 3rd to the 5th of October, 2013, the entire Church of Cameroon, gathered in Buea to celebrate the closure of the Year of Faith declared by Pope Benedict XVI. The choice of Buea by the Bishops and the convergence of all the Bishops of Cameroon in Buea for this event shows that the Catholic Church’s mission is not determined by political or linguistic lines.
The unity that the church preaches among peoples has nothing to do with political struggles for the autonomy of minority groups or struggles for independence. The Church is faithful to the priestly prayer of her founder, Jesus Christ who prayed, “that they may all be One”. The Church does not posses any political power over the temporal order. This means that she has no jurisdiction over the political realm, even though she possesses the plenitude of teaching authority. Outside the sphere of religion and morals the Church possesses no competence. Refraining from direct involvement in politics, the Church will be able to proclaim the royal dominion of God over the entire world all the more efficiently and unerringly.
The State does not posses any authority over the spiritual, religious order. The State is never entitled to subject the work of the Church to a control founded on state interest (Gallicanism). If the state should assume any position of power in the church, attempt to dominate her or even to enlist her service in her political programs, it would infringe the divinely ordained separation of powers and violate the rights of the Church.
It is true, the government ought “to take account of the religious life of the people and show it favour, since the function of government is to make provisions for the common welfare. However, it will clearly transgress the limits set to its power were it to presume to direct or inhibit acts that are religious”. (10) Vice versa, of course, the Church may never place herself at the unqualified service of a particular political system or state, which would mean a betrayal of her mission.
The Catholic Church in Cameroon, continues to stand as a light to the Cameroon nation with regard to the feasibility of unity, the functioning of reunification and national integration. The whole philosophy of the Catholic Church is built on the words of the hymn,
“In Christ there is no East no West, in Him no South or North. But one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide world.”(11) God bless Cameroon.
(1.) Anthony Ndi, Mill Hill Missionaries in Southern West Cameroon, 1922-1972, Pauline Press, 2005, p.22.
(2.) Ibid. 51.
(3.) David Gardinier, Cameroon, United Nations Challenge to French Policy, Oxford University Press, 1963, p.68.
(4.) Ibid, p.104-105.
(5.) Atem George, How Unified is the Republic of Cameroon?, Anucam Publishers, 2012, pp. 134-135.
(6.) Ibid, p. 135
(8.) Atem George, Op.cit.,
(9.) Ibid, p.136
(10.) Declaration on Religious Freedom, No 3.
(11.) Cameroon Hymnal No.