Cameroon: ‘Raise not your hand against the Anointed of Yahweh’

IN A PASTORAL LETTER entitled, “Raise not your hand against the Anointed of Yahweh,” Bishop Andrew Nkea of Mamfe, Cameroon condemns the recent spate abductions of priests in his diocese. He said they are a means of extortion employed by some members of the Ambazonia Defense Forces (ADF) in retaliation for the participation of the bishop in the process of national dialogue for the re-establishment of peace in Cameroon. The ADF forces have turned to violence in their push for the independence of the Anglophone region in the south of the country.

Bishop Nkea

In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Aid to the Church in Need, the bishop reported on the kidnapping of Father Felix Sunday, a Nigerian and the parish priest of Afap was abducted by members of the ADF. Two other priests managed to escape from ambushes. Most recently, two priests in the parish of Kembong where held up at gunpoint and asked to pay some $1700 in ransom money, which the priests managed to avoid.

The principal aim of the attacks appears to be an act of reprisal against bishop for his involvement in the Great National Dialogue being held in the capital of Yaoundé. The ADF is opposed to the talk, and are demanding the participants each pay a fine of $850. The kidnapping of priests is a way to hurt the bishop, who, the ADF insist, must pay ransom for their release. “The truth is that I don’t have this kind of money to pay to anybody,” Bishop Nkea wrote.

But aside from the question of money, Bishop Nkea is horrified at the fact that the ADF includes crimes local young men from the areas where his priests have fulfilled their pastoral duties throughout the months-long crisis at the risk of great personal danger. Mamfe has been one of the places most seriously affected by the so-called “Anglophone crisis.” “The violence has escalated and resulted in death, loss of property, grave insecurity, many displaced persons and many refugees who fled to Nigeria,” the bishop wrote.

Yet throughout all these difficulties, Bishop Nkea proclaims, the priests have continued to comfort and accompany their people. “Through the heavy gun shots, the fire and the dangers to life, our heroic priests remained among their people as true shepherds who would never abandon their sheep in times of danger. Like Jesus the Good Shepherd, the priests of the Diocese of Mamfe were ready at all times to ‘lay down their lives for their sheep’ (Jn.10:15). This pastoral commitment led to the death of Father Cosmas Ondari Omboto, the parochial vicar of Kembong Parish. Yet the priests did not feel discouraged and they did not abandon their flock, not even in Kembong,” reports the bishop.

The bishop wrote further: “These boys claim that they took up guns to protect the population and it is a great contradiction that these guns are now being used to terrorize the very population they claimed to be protecting. We all joined together to decry the brutality of the military against the people, but now it is our own children who have turned against their own people – and they think it is normal?”

Bishop Nkea has decided to take drastic measures and withdraw all his priests from the parishes of Kembong, Ossing and Eyumojock until the Catholic faithful in these places “can offer a written guarantee of the security of these priests who are working for them,” he wrote. In addition, he is suspending “all development projects in these parishes, because the very people for whom the projects are meant have made the areas unsafe for any development, and even those who work on these projects are not safe.”

Bishop Nkea called on members of the ADF to halt the violence, “so that priests can return as soon as possible to their parishes and continue to work in peace.” He concluded: “There is no family without difficulties, but the Christian faith helps us to solve our problems peacefully, without violence, and to move ahead as one family.”

—Maria Lozano