When did I see you hungry and feed you?

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This article first appeared as part of a four-page advertising insert in the Oct. 12 edition of the Arlington Catholic Herald.

When did I see you hungry and feed you? When did I see you thirsty and give you drink? When did I see you suffering and visited you? Jesus gives a simple but challenging response to these questions: “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

This summer I traveled with Mike Mele (a volunteer with the Arlington Mission Office) and Father Ghenghan Mbinkar (a doctoral student at Catholic University) to Cameroon. There we visited Father Mbinkar’s diocese of Kumbo. Approximately 20 percent of the population is Roman Catholic in this poor but vibrant faith community. Our purpose was to witness the challenges and promise that exist within this beautiful land; and to see how we answer Christ’s directive to care for one another.

Upon arriving, we met with the lone cardinal from Cameroon Cardinal Christian Wiyghan Tumi, the retired Archbishop of Douala, and who hails from the Diocese of Kumbo. Admired for his persistent advocacy for the disenfranchised, and despite several attempts on his life, Cardinal Tumi has been a constant voice against governmental abuses. According to Father Mbinkar, one such attempt was thwarted by parishioners who warned the Cardinal to avoid taking his usual route home; had he done so he would have been ambushed and killed. When asked about these threats, the Cardinal just smiled, “I am an old man;” an answer similar to the one given by Pope Francis when queried on the same subject. Cardinal Tumi’s primary concern is his people, who are embroiled in a growing civil conflict. As a true shepherd, he cares deeply about his flock.

In Kumbo the following day, we met Bishop George Nkuo. In addition to his diocesan responsibilities, he is the Vice President of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon as well as the President of the Bamenda Provincial Episcopal Conference. Among the many challenges he faces is ensuring a proper education for the children of his diocese. Though many of the schools are primitive by our standards and meeting payroll is oftentimes difficult, the teachers remain. Father Mbinkar was taught in these same schools by Catholic educators, as were many of Cameroon’s civic leaders. Imagine our happiness when we saw that some of the schools were built with funds from our diocesan missionary collections!

Cameroon’s infrastructure is poor. Electricity is sparse; the roads are barely navigable on a sunny day, impassible during the rains. The hospitals are few, but the professionalism of the doctors and nurses in the Catholic-run facilities that we visited was amazing. Poverty is wide-spread and so the priests must provide not just spiritual guidance but material assistance. This is extremely difficult as the priests themselves have financial hardships of their own, making an already untenable situation even more challenging. According to Father Mbinkar, training beyond basic seminary formation is rare. With little to no money for lay workers, the priests find themselves in unfamiliar positions as principals, finance managers, etc. It is left to the individual cleric to procure additional education to meet these needs.

Each parish has an average of 15 “missions,” outpost communities that the priests and sisters visit, often by foot and over great distances. These long and physically hard walks into the mountains are covered by the diocese’s 113 priests and 195 religious sisters. Volunteers join them in their efforts to be missionary disciples.

Bishop Nkuo has stated that education is the key to alleviating the hardships faced by his people. As Father Mbinkar relates, he is keenly aware of the problems that can arise in evangelizing a population which is literally hungry. To this end, a singular priority is to increase the number of schools. Through our diocesan collections, three buildings are now under construction. Donations to the elementary school in Nkar and the Minor Seminary play key roles in their efforts towards self-reliance.

The Diocese of Arlington has been blessed to host several priests from Kumbo while they study at Catholic University. Their presence among our parishes has increased cultural awareness and most importantly, reminded the people of the Church’s universality. Over the years, the Diocese of Arlington has invited missionaries from all over the world to speak about the challenges they face living out their baptismal call to spread the Good News. As the Diocesan Mission Director I travel to many of our missions; wherever I go I am met with the same light of faith which transcends language and culture. These visits have given me fresh perspectives and renewed my priestly calling.

Recently, I was asked what I wanted people to remember this World Mission Sunday. Most importantly, it would be that these are real human beings who benefit from your generosity. They are our sisters and brothers in the Lord; and they need our help. They do not ask for a hand-out, but to join them in their efforts to build chapels in remote parts of the country, to make bricks for the schools and clinics so that their neighbors can be cared for in their illnesses. Like all missionaries, they are asking you to join your hands with theirs to build up the Kingdom of God. The World Mission Sunday collection is not just another second collection, it is an example of our fundamental responsibility as Christians, which is to proclaim Christ to the ends of the world. 

Please continue to pray for all our sisters and brothers who work in the Lord’s vineyards across the globe. Thank you for your support of the World Mission Sunday collection on Sunday Oct. 22.

Fr. Posey is pastor of St. James Church in Falls Church and diocesan director of the missions office.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017