AFRICA/CAMEROON - Archbishop of Bamenda and President of the Bishops' Conference: "Despite the violence, I did not close any parish and I stayed on site"

Friday, 15 September 2023 local churches   bishops   synodality   peace  

Rome (Agenzia Fides) - The President of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Cameroon, Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Bamenda, spoke in an interview with Fides about the situation of the Church in Cameroon.

How is synodality lived in the church in Cameroon?
I am happy to answer this question because I am a member of the Synod Council and we have been working on this issue for three years. The Synodality has, so to speak, "caught fire" in Cameroon because we have explained to our faithful from the beginning that each diocese must respond to Pope Francis' invitation to listen to one another, to move forward together and to share our ideas, and we should remember that as Christians we must not forget anyone. I would like to emphasize that in Cameroon we have a structural situation in which we start from decisions made at the grassroots community level. So we always start with the population, the community, and only then move on to the missions, the parishes and the diocese. Therefore, when a Bishop wants to make a decision on a particular issue, the consultation begins with the involvement of the faithful, starting with families and ending with the bishop, who then, together with his advisors, makes the final decision based on what he has heard. So we can say that concrete synodality already exists in our culture. I exchanged experiences from Cameroon with the other members of the Synod Council and also with the Holy Father.

What role does mission play in the church in Cameroon?
I would like to give the example of my Archdiocese of Bamenda. We have begun a South-South partnership with the Archdiocese of Bangui in the Central African Republic, where we have sent missionaries. But we do not neglect the north of the world either: we have sent “Fidei Donum” priests to dioceses in Europe and the United States. Since we have many vocations - we currently have 150 seminarians - some bishop friends in other parts of the world have asked me to send priests from my archdiocese. The Catholic Church is a universal church, so I must not only think of Bamenda, but also think of other dioceses where there is a shortage of priests. We also assist in the training of priests from the dioceses who ask us to do so. We currently have two seminarians from Bangui in our seminary. Training more than 150 seminarians is certainly not easy... It is not easy because the costs are high (at least a thousand euros per seminarian to study at the Major seminary). Thank God Propaganda Fide (the Dicastery for Evangelization) helps us, but our faithful also do their part, because they see it as their duty to contribute financially to the formation of future priests.

What is the state of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue in Cameroon?
There is good collaboration between us. Last week, for example, we had a meeting with other religious leaders from both other Christian denominations and Muslims to discuss together the socio-political situation in Cameroon. I often speak with the leader of the Protestant Church and also with the Imam of Bamenda. With the latter, when we have meetings like the one last week, we travel together in the same car. We don't have any problems with each other. There are five Muslims employed in the diocese's Caritas office, and we have a brotherly relationship with all of them. Bamenda is part of the so-called Anglophone region, where a separatist conflict is raging... The conflict, which has been going on for seven years, is not so much about language (an English-speaking minority against a French-speaking majority) but about culture. As bishops, we have always emphasized the need to preserve and respect each other's culture. The demands came from lawyers and teachers and were shared by the general population, but it was only when politicians took them up that a conflict was triggered. The population is not waging war. There are separatist groups that have decided to do this, but the population is against it because they are suffering greatly from the violence that the separatists are causing. However, in recent years the situation has improved. Children who previously could not go to school can now do so. Several internally displaced people have returned to their homes and villages. But the problem remains. We appeal to all parties to stop taking up arms and to engage in an unbiased and open dialogue in order to finally solve the problem. Surely we must continue to pray for peace. We thank the Holy Father, who regularly calls us to pray for Cameroon during the Sunday Angelus prayer.
The Church has not sided with the separatists or the government in order to continue to offer its mediation services. Despite the violence in the Archdiocese of Bamenda, no parish had to be closed and I remained local. Rather, I maintain a constant dialogue with the government and with the separatists to find a path to peace. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides, 15/9/2023)