World Mission Sunday collection is Oct. 22

First slide

“Why are we being stopped again, and this time by armed soldiers?” we asked, this time a bit nervous. We were told by our host, Father Ghenghan Mbinkar, not to worry, this is routine here.

Our small delegation, led by the Very Rev. Patrick Posey, Director for the Pontifical Mission Societies of the Arlington Diocese, and consisting of Father Ghenghan Mbinkar of St. James Parish, and myself visited this west-African country last June to witness the work of the Catholic missions there. What we found surprised us.

We certainly encountered countless works of dedication and sacrifice, as well as the prolific support provided by our diocese to these needy people of God. But we also found roadblocks and checkpoints, closed and in some cases burned schools, and a fearful and intimidated populace.

In a nutshell, the problem relates to the pre-independence history of Cameroon, when the country was formed from French-speaking and English colonies. Over the years, the Anglophone area has become marginalized by the Francophone-led establishment, which dominates the government, education and legal systems. The Anglophone regions account for just under 20 percent of the Cameroon’s 23 million people. These regions are pressing for more autonomy, if not complete secession.

Most of our visit was within these Anglophone regions. “Where are all the people?” was another of our frequent questions. Father Mbinkar explained: “[T]his is a Ghost-Town day. The people of the town are on strike and close down all activities. They usually do this once a week.” Since the beginning of the strike in November 2016, all schools in the Anglophone regions, including the Catholic schools, have not been operational.

Last month, the Catholic bishops made a brave decision: reopen the Catholic schools! Father Mbinkar, who tracks developments while studying here in the United States, told me: “[T]he parents want to send their children to school but they fear for the safety of the children. Even in areas which are ‘supposed’ to be guarded by the forces of law and order, some destructions have still taken place so it is not clear who the culprits really are. On September 22 the Anglophone people came out to demonstrate peacefully, and 7 people were brutally murdered by the security forces. Yesterday, October 1, the anniversary of the official reunification of the Anglophone and Francophone parts of Cameroon, the Anglophone people were once more in the streets, in defiance of all administrative authorities, to symbolically declare their independence. This again left more than seven dead at the hands of the military. So much uncertainty looms over the state of the country. Now some schools are closed again.”

Indeed, more arms are becoming involved. Besides the loss of lives that has been recorded so far, a number of schools, including Sacred Heart College Mankon, have been partially or completely burnt down. The terrible irony in this horrific event is obvious: with a literacy rate over 90 percent, Cameroon is a country that treasures education and yet it is the schools which suffer. Clearly, your prayers are needed to bring this growing conflict to a just and peaceful end.

Mele is a volunteer for the Pontifical Mission Societies of the Arlington Diocese.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017