In the wake of recent attempts by Mgr. Kleda and his entourage from the French-speaking region of Cameroon to precipitate the re-opening of schools in West Cameroon, let me salute the comrades (parents, priests, religious and laity) who rightly stood up to the churchmen from the East. In the context of the Biblical account of the visit of the wise men from the East, we can glean some reasons why the Archbishop failed in his mission.
Remembering that in Biblical times the East was known for magic, palmistry, paganism and idolatry; it is remarkable that the wise men took off for their journey after thorough research that led to the conclusion that the star was not an ordinary one, but the sign of the birth of a great person. Led by the star, they set out for their journey bringing with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh for the Child. After their encounter with Christ, having been warned by an angel, they traveled back through a different road. Theirs was a fruitful journey that probably transformed their lives, having recognized Christ as the light of the world.
Unlike the Biblical wise men, all accounts so far indicate that the Cameroonian churchmen from the East did not thoroughly research the issues at hand before embarking on their journey; they lacked adequate understanding of their destination and the people with whom they were going to speak, therefore their package was less than half baked. The feedback so far speaks volumes regarding the obvious consequences of such a journey: an overwhelming rejection. Surely after such a futile mission they traveled back through the same road, unlike the wise men from the East. Again it probably was not a transforming experience for the clergymen, but a frustrating one.
What lessons do we learn from this? First, we are living in an era where the clergy should not take their flock for granted, especially when they are hungry and thirsty for justice. A hungry man is an angry man. This is not the time when a Bishop could function like the one-eyed man in the country of the blind. Ecclesiastical titles don’t guarantee immunity to public scrutiny and harsh criticisms. It does not matter whether one is bishop or priest, we must work hard to earn the respect and confidence of the people, without which we would be treated like tasteless salt. Scripture says, “You are the salt of the earth but if salt loses its taste it is good for nothing, and will be trampled underfoot (Mtt 5:13).
Secondly, in disciplines or crisis management issues that are not, de jure, the prerogative of the clerical office, the clergy must be thoroughly informed before taking the cue to address the people. It is said of the El Savadorian Bishop and martyr, Oscar Romero, that he never made public statements on matters of social injustice without consulting the experts on the plain facts of the matter. It behooves me to recommend this to churchmen who may erroneously think that ordination qualifies them to speak on any subject even when they wake up from slumber. It is a grave error for clerics to address such burning issues without adequate consultation of experts on the ground of which there are many in the NW and SW regions. Ignorance is not a virtue. Even the Pope is not infallible in disciplines beyond the scope of Faith or Morals. He too consults the experts and advisers. Regarding the impasse in West Cameroon, it is not enough to brandish letters, laden with theories on justice and peace, without taking concrete steps to bring an end to oppression and injustice. Right before our very eyes, the cases of injustice are glaring, the stakes are high, and the lessons have sunk to the extent that a class 5 pupil will refute any caption such as “One People One Nation.” The church cannot afford to mince words or play cool ‘while the souls of men are dying.’
Thirdly, this is a time for conversion for all of us, clergy and laity alike. As regards the clergy, it doesn’t matter whether you are from the East or West, we are called to one and the same mission as recorded in Isaiah 61:1: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, to set prisoners free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And every Catholic Bishop, irrespective of your geographical location hears these words at ordination time, “Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.” When we fail to live up to our calling in times of crisis, and rather settle for political games and gains, it is not only disheartening to our people, but it is equally detrimental to the work of evangelization. By such actions we create the leeway for the devil who is the father of lies. There is no better time than now to rise like One Army and seek the Lord’s face, in contrition, honesty and sincerity of heart.
Similarly, if together with the people, we have not been able to attain our goal despite so much evidence in favor of our liberation, we must examine ourselves, cleanse ourselves from petty squabbles and seek the face of the Lord: “If my people who are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sins and heal their land”(2 Chron 7:14). Repentance has always been a necessary step in the history of liberation of God’s people. When Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh, they repented in sackcloth and ashes, both kings and subjects (Jon 3:4).
Last but not least, there is urgent need for communal prayer. Once in the history of the Catholic Church in Cameroon, all Christians recited the prayer against Bribery and Corruption daily, initiated by the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (NECC). In consideration of the seriousness of the current Southern Cameroons problem, now is the time for the same conference to compose a prayer for a just and peaceful resolution of the crisis for daily recitation at the Masses. This is the way Christians of the French-speaking regions can show solidarity with their brethren of West Cameroon. After his failed mission to the West, if the President of NECC cannot still appreciate the urgency of this prayer, then he has yet to learn the lesson. This is the only chance to transform that failed visit into something similar to the Biblical visit of the wise men from the East. Let love propel us, let truth be our shield, may God bless our course and restore peace in our land.
Father Wilfred Emeh