Rome (Agenzia Fides) - "The percentage of Catholics in the south of Cameroon is very high. There is a large number of well-organized parishes with good facilities. I saw brand new churches and others under construction. The south has a number of priests superior to its needs while in the north these are scarce", says to Agenzia Fides Fr. Fernando Domingues, a Comboni missionary, Secretary General of the Pontifical Society of Saint Peter the Apostle, who has just returned from a series of meetings with the local Church in Cameroon.
Father Domingues gave Fides the following interview.
How can one manage such a high number of vocations concentrated in just one part of the country?
I suggested they establish internal Fidei Donum, so that the dioceses with an abundance of priests can help those in the north.
In fact, in some dioceses of the south the parishes are full of priests, and a Vicar General told me he struggles to find a place for new priests, also because a parish can economically support one priest but struggles to support two or three.
The Church in Cameroon can also take the example of Baba Simon, alias Simon Mpeke (Batombé 1906- Edéea 1975), a priest from the south of Cameroon who at the end of the 50s of last century had asked to be sent to an area of evangelization in the north of Cameroon, in the diocese of Maroua-Mokolo. Baba Simon gave a magnificent testimony of both the missionary commitment of first evangelization and of life next to the local population; he went barefoot, having chosen to dress like the poor people who he evangelized. The diocese of Maroua-Mokolo has begun the process of beatification and the Bishops of Cameroon propose him as a model of diocesan priest full of missionary spirit lived in an almost heroic way.
The second indication that I offered to the Church of Cameroon is that given the abundance of seminarians, the Bishops together with the formators have the possibility to choose the best candidates for the priesthood, since the latter is not a right of the person but a service to the Church. The problem is to find the modalities for a process of personal accompaniment of each individual seminarian, so that there may be a discernment that helps candidates to understand if the Lord actually calls them to the priesthood or to another vocation.
In this situation are missionary congregations still present in Cameroon?
Yes, but in the south they are specialized presences, above all they are spiritual directors or teachers in the seminaries, while there are very few parishes managed by the missionaries, given the abundance of local clergy. In the north, however, given the scarcity of local priests, there are still spaces for missionary activities of first evangelization and assistance to parishes.
As for the missionary activities of the Cameroonian priests, there is no organized movement of Fidei Donum to be sent abroad, but there are many initiatives on an individual basis to send local priests to other Countries outside Cameroon. There is still a strong presence of missionary congregations that have several local candidates that constitute a missionary force that operates both in Cameroon and in other Countries. It is a very important reality so much so that in Cameroon an African symposium on religious life was held in these days, with the participation of Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, followed by the Assembly of Men and Women Major Superiors
The English-speaking regions of the Country have been in turmoil for some time and have even declared a symbolic independence. How does the Church live this situation?
For historical reasons the vast majority of the Church is French-speaking. However, there are two areas in the north-west and south-west that are English-speaking and that from a social point of view have long felt the need for autonomy. At an Episcopal Conference level there is an effort to build ecclesial communion between the two linguistic components. For example, in the last Annual Seminar of the Bishops of Cameroon in which I participated, the commitment to ensure that everyone could understand everything was very clear, with the various documents written in French and English. Where it was necessary there was direct simultaneous translation. The Church strives to be an element of national union. Our National Director, who is a native English speaker, told me that when he is in the presence of French-speakers he always tries to speak French, and French speakers try to speak English with him. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 20/1/2018)