, 29 April, 2020 / 1:00 AM
Two Bishops in the midst of the protracted Anglophone crisis in the Central African nation of Cameroon have, in an interview with ACI Africa, reflected on the challenge that COVID-19 crisis presents to their pastoral ministry, one of them describing the experience as “no easy job.”
“Shuffling between two crises is no easy job. So, faced with the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation becomes worse,” Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo, a diocese located in the Northwestern region of Cameroon told ACI Africa Monday, April 27, referencing the ongoing protracted Anglophone crisis amid COVID-19 restrictions.
Bishop Nkuo explained, “Contradictory directives from separatists and state put people out of their homes, exposing them to stray bullets and further endangering their lives to COVID-19.”
The Cameroonian Bishop who has been at the helm of his diocese since July 2006 added, “The sporadic opening of public places such as markets, after days of lockdown from separatist fighters leads to overcrowding and negative effects from non-respect of social distancing, increasing the possibility of the spread of the virus even to these fighters.”
In addition, the 67-year-old Prelate reflected, “The military who themselves neither wear face masks nor use hand sanitizers extort from people who do not also wear a mask or use hand sanitizers. At the advent of the virus, the military will be affected and will also help spread.”
Two English Speaking regions of Cameroon, the North West and the South West, plunged into conflict in 2016 after a protest by lawyers and teachers turned violent. An armed separatists’ movement claiming independence for the so-called republic of Ambazonia emerged following the government’s crackdown on protesters.
Since then, the violent conflict has led to the displacement of over 679,000 people. More than 600,000 children have not been able to go to school in the two regions, and more than 3,000 lives have been lost in the four-year conflict.
“This corona Pandemic has taken us completely by surprise and it is difficult for the people to manage it, given our other problems that were already plaguing the society before it,” the Archbishop of Bamenda, Andrew Nkea Fuanya told ACI Africa Monday, April 27.
The Local Ordinary of Bamenda, which is also in the Northwest region of Cameroon explained in reference to COVID-19 pandemic, “In the North West and South West Regions where we have been suffering the effects of the socio-political crisis now for four years, this has only come to add to the misery of the people.”
According to Worldmeters, Cameroon has recorded at least 1,705 cases of COVID-19, which include 805 recoveries and 58 deaths.
Reflecting on the impact of COVID-19 restrictions to the pastoral ministry, Bishop Nkuo said the effects were serious and explained, “Our church is not a rich Church. Thus, the livelihood of Priests has become difficult given that no Mass means no alms. This means that even catechists and other Church personnel dependent on this means of survival have been greatly affected.”
“More so, Christians who do not always understand the meaning of spiritual communion tend not to pray or keep holy their Sunday duties,” the Local Ordinary of Kumbo added.
“If places like markets are opened and health personnel work as usual or more than usual, why should priests not do the same?” the 67-year-old Prelate probed and continued, “This is logical but dangerous especially when we consider that in Italy for example, many priests have died in an attempt to break restrictions.”
He however clarified that should places of worship be opened, the people must first consider the risk involved and put in place measures to protect life. He has proposed that “a restricted number of persons attend, with multiple Masses celebrated on Saturdays and Sundays, and participants wearing face masks, and hand sanitizers constantly used.”
On his part, Archbishop Nkea explained that the suspension of the celebration of Mass in public has the main purpose of saving lives in the face of COVID-19 pandemic.
“If Bishops can suspend the celebration of Masses, then you know that they are putting human life first before all else,” Archbishop Nkea told ACI Africa during the April 27 interview.
He said that the suspension of public Mass was not applicable in the same way to all dioceses in the country.
“Some Dioceses, where the pandemic is very serious have closed down the churches and suspended the celebration of the sacraments,” Archbishop Nkea said.
In his own Archdiocese of Bamenda, he has “taken enough measures not to completely starve the Christians of the Word of God and the Eucharist especially.”
He has “given allowance for the celebration of Sunday Masses with no more than 50 people in attendance” during which the faithful “take turns to attend the Sunday liturgy.”
“The rest of the people follow from their houses through the radio, television, and the social media,” he said.
The 54-year-old Prelate who doubles as the Vice-President of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (CENC) said that the college of Bishops have encouraged the people of God in the country to adhere to the government directives.
“The National Episcopal Conference wrote a letter of solidarity to all the Christians and people of goodwill in Cameroon, asking them to follow strictly the instructions of the World Health Organization and the Government of Cameroon,” the Prelate recalled during the April 27 interview.
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ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa