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Over a Dozen Parishes Closed in Cameroon’s Mamfe Diocese, Bishop Recounts

Bishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Mamfe Diocese, Cameroon

The protracted Anglophone crisis in Cameroon has taken a heavy toll on the pastoral activities of the local churches, particularly Mamfe diocese, where the Bishop has had to take the painful decision of closing down over a dozen parishes, he has told ACI Africa.

“When the crisis started, I had to close 16 parishes because all the people in those parishes ran away and we had to take out the priests for their own security,” Bishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Mamfe Diocese told ACI Africa.

“In one of the parishes, one of my priest was shot and killed,” Bishop Nkea said in reference to the death of Kenyan-born Fr Cosmos Omboto Ondari, a Mill Hill Missionary killed on November 21, 2018.

Although nine of the 16 parishes have recently been reopened, the Cameroonian Bishop disclosed and added, “the situation is still very difficult.”

He also said that the Church is doing her best to get people who had fled their homes to return and noted that those returning find nothing since they lost everything.

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“We are getting people to have a bit of confidence in themselves and the society,” Bishop Nkea told ACI Africa in Nairobi last Wednesday where he was taking part  in the continental conference on trauma among Church personnel.

Mamfe diocese has also the pastoral challenge of looking after the significant number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as well as those who fled to neighboring Nigeria as refugees and still rely on support from Cameroon.

“There is a lot of instability with regards to the population, a lot of people had run away, some moved to Nigeria as refugees, some have run into the bushes,” Bishop Nkea said.

“The IDPs are many, if you go to the refugee camp for example in Ogoja (a Local Government Area in Cross River State in Nigeria), there are about 5000 or more people there,” He explained and wondered, “How can you feed 5000 people every day?”

He narrated the intervention by the Church saying, “We still have these problems of bringing food to the various communities and bringing medication to those who are sick.”

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“In spite of the odds, in spite of the danger to our own lives, we persevere to remain there as a sign of hope to the people,” he said and added, “If the Church also disappears then the people are now not just like sheep without a shepherd but they are like they have lost the last ray of hope they had.”

According to Unicef, over 80% of schools have been shut down as a result of the Anglophone crisis, denying more than 600,000 children access to education.

Commenting on the challenge with schools in his Mamfe diocese, Bishop Nkea said, “I would say that in Mamfe town my schools are working. My primary school of Saint Joseph has over 500 children, although it is not easy; we are getting threats every day from the boys (the Separatists Fighters) to close down the school, but we just cannot, we have to go on.” 

“Children cannot be out of schools for three years, this is the fourth year and we still talk about no schools,” he said in reference to efforts taken to keep children in school and regretted, “In some areas where roads are completely blocked, Schools are all closed.”

Underlining the challenge of insecurity and its impact on the ministry of the local Church, Bishop Nkea said, “For two years now, I have not done regular pastoral visits. I used to go round the parishes, but now because of the insecurity some of the roads are completely blocked, some of the bridges have been cut off.”

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Faced with these challenges, the Prelate said the Church “needed a change of strategy in bringing the gospel to the people.”

“Thanks be to God I have a diocesan radio (Radio Evangelium) so I do a lot of evangelization on the radio,” the bishop disclosed. 

“When I say Mass in the Cathedral it is always (broadcast) live, and after that the message will be played over and over for almost a week so that it goes everywhere,” Bishop Nkea narrated to ACI Africa.

“I think many people have been appreciating the radio and the evangelization we are doing through it,” he added.

The diocese of Mamfe also organizes prayer sessions, catechesis and pastoral activities in the center of the diocese wherever it is safe.

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“Some people even come from the bushes, they attend these activities two, three days and they go back,” the Bishop recounted.

The Catholic Church in Mamfe has also launched a financial initiative dubbed “Una Familia Microfinance”, which seeks to alleviate poverty and ensure economic recovery for the people.

The bishop traced the decision to launch the initiative to a diocesan meeting saying, “I talked with my (finance) Council and we talked with our people and decided to launch this financial initiative which is a source of assistance to economic recovery.” 

“Practically all the banks in Mamfe are closed,” he added.

“We launched this microfinance institution so that people can have access to some kind of cash that will help them restart their lives again,” Bishop Nkea said and continued, “Many of them have lost everything. If we are talking to people to come back, we must put in place programs that will help them start life all over again.”

 “We are hoping that the war will end soon. Already things are getting a little bit better in some parts,” Bishop Nkea concluded.