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Recently Freed Cameroonian Priest Says Celebrating Mass in Captivity "the joy that I had"

Fr. Christopher Eboka who had been kidnapped by members of Ambazonia separatist movement in Cameroon's Mamfe Diocese. Credit: Fr. Christopher Eboka

Fr. Christopher Eboka, the Cameroonian Catholic Priest who had been abducted on May 22  and later released, has told ACI Africa that the chances he had to celebrate Holy Mass while in captivity were his sources of joy.

In the Monday, June 7 interview with ACI Africa, Fr. Eboka who was freed May 31 said, “We got a chance to pray during captivity. I celebrated four Masses while I was in captivity. This is the joy that I had,”

Those who held him in captivity "had no problem" whenever he sought permission to pray, the member of the Clergy of Cameroon’s Mamfe Diocese recalled, and added, “It was interesting that one of the days, the captain asked me to preach and we had the service of the word of God and prayers.”

Fr. Eboka was abducted alongside his bike rider while heading to one of the Outstations of St. Joseph’s Cathedral Parish of Mamfe Diocese in view of presiding over Pentecost Sunday Mass on May 23. 

“I am the Cathedral Administrator and I must reach out to the out stations. I had organized Pentecost celebrations in two of the outstations and in order to catch up with time, I left on Friday, May 21 with my bike man. Because of the nature of the road, we could not get to our destination so we spent the night in a different mission station,” Fr. Eboka recounted during the June 7 interview.

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When they resumed their journey the following day, they met some members of the Ambazonia separatist movement (Amba Boys) who arrested them upon the orders of one of their captains, the Cathedral Administrator who doubles as the Diocesan Director of Communication and Station Manager of Radio Evangelium recalled the events of May 22.

“The captain told me that his interest in me is based on the fact that I am a Catholic Priest. He said he wouldn’t have bothered if I was someone else but the Catholic Church is very influential and it is working with the government to fight against them,” said the member of the Clergy of the Diocese located within the South Western region of Cameroon, one of the regions affected by the Anglophone crisis. 

As a Catholic Priest, Fr. Eboka recalled the separatists’ captain saying, they would hold him “so that the money which the government shares with the Church will be given to them to support their struggle.”

“For that they were charging me 10 million Francs CFA (US$18,600.00),” said the Priest, adding, “I was locked up with my rider and they went on with their mission while we were left with four of their soldiers.”

News about his arrest travelled quickly and on Pentecost Sunday, some Christians from the outstation he was headed to visited him and they celebrated the Holy Mass while in captivity, Fr. Eboka told ACI Africa.  

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For the next four days, Fr. Eboka said that he and his rider were given the duty of cleaning the Amba Boys' camp. 

Recalling his experience in captivity in its entirety, the alumnus of Kenya’s Daystar University said that his abductors were not always consistent in the way they addressed him,  “they did not mistreat me at any point in time”

“They gave us food; they told us to take a bath and we got locked up again,” he recalling, adding that his abductors listened to him whenever he intervened for other abductees.  

“Three Christians, two Catechists and another, came to visit again and they were locked up. The captain ordered the Christian to be beaten because the two others were Catechists and he was only a faithful. I intervened; the captain threatened to blow my head with a gun but at the end of the day, they stopped beating him,” he narrated, adding that the three were freed after he negotiated with the captain.

They paid 45,500 Francs CFA (US$84) to secure their release, Fr. Eboka revealed.

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According to the Cleric, his release was occasioned by “so much noise in the world about my situation."

"Those who arrested me received instructions from Ambazonians who are in America and in Europe to free me. Because of social and other media campaigns they knew that they had a Priest in custody; they called all leaders on the ground to find where I was being held," said the Communications Director in Mamfe. 

While in captivity, he recalled, he worried more about his colleagues, Christians and his mother but he was "peacefully convinced that there would be a way for us to come out." 

"I had to remain strong for those I was locked up with and encourage them," Fr. Eboka who has been a Priest since May 2012 said.

He expressed his appreciation to the people of God in Cameroon and beyond for their prayers and campaign to have him freed saying, "the voice of prayer is never silent." 

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"Let us pray and be concerned about one another because once we are people of prayer, many things will work," said Fr. Eboka.