The Vatican’s Secretary of State kicked off a week-long trip to Cameroon on Thursday in which he will visit a region blighted by clashes between government forces and separatists.
During his visit from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3, Cardinal Pietro Parolin is scheduled to meet with the local authorities and Cameroon’s Catholic bishops in the country’s capital, Yaoundé, and visit the English-speaking Northwest Region.
Local media in Cameroon have reported that the cardinal will likely use his visit to work towards the resolution of the dispute known as the Anglophone crisis.
Both the Holy See and the local Church have appealed for dialogue to end the strife. One of the Catholic leaders who has played an active role in seeking a resolution is Cardinal Christian Tumi, who was kidnapped by gunmen in Cameroon’s Northwest Region on Nov. 5.
A video published on social media showed the 90-year-old cardinal calmly responding as one of his captors confronted him about his calls for separatist fighters in Cameroon to lay down their arms. To this, the cardinal responded: “I will preach what is the truth with pastoral conviction and biblical conviction.”
“Nobody has the right to tell me to preach the contrary because I was called by God,” Cardinal Tumi said. He was released by his kidnappers on Nov. 6.
The crisis in Cameroon is rooted in country’s colonial history. The area was a German colony in the late 19th century, but the territory was divided into British and French mandates after the German Empire’s defeat in World War I. The mandates were united in an independent Cameroon in 1961, but English-speakers have complained ever since of marginalization by the French-speaking majority.
There is now a separatist movement in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, which were formerly the British Cameroons. Violence escalated in October when gunmen attacked Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, a school in Kumba in Cameroon’s Southwest region, on Oct. 24 and opened fire on students in a classroom. Seven students aged 12 to 14 were killed.
Pope Francis prayed on Oct. 28 that “the tormented regions of the northwest and southwest of [Cameroon] may finally find peace.”
In Cameroon’s Northwest Region, Parolin will offer Mass on Jan. 31 at the Catholic cathedral in Bamenda, where he will give the pallium to Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya.
Nkea, 55, was appointed archbishop of Bamenda in December 2019. He is known for his emphasis on family, community, and traditional values.
At the 2018 meeting of the Synod of Bishops on young people, faith, and vocational discernment, Nkea, who was the bishop of Mamfe at the time, said that the Church in Cameroon and many parts of Africa was growing — including among young people.
“My churches are all bursting, and I don’t have space to keep the young people,” Nkea said during a Vatican press conference in Oct. 2018. “And my shortest Mass would be about two and a half hours.”
A 2018 study by the Pew Research Center found that church attendance and prayer frequency was highest in sub-Saharan Africa and lowest in Western Europe. Four out of five Christians in Cameroon said that they prayed every day.
During the synod on young people, Nkea credited the Church’s growth in Cameroon to the alignment between Church teaching and the values of Cameroonian society, and the strength of the family as a cultural institution.
“People ask me, ‘Why are your churches full?’” Nkea said in 2018. “Coming from Africa, the family is a very, very strong institution.”
“We come from a culture in which tradition normally is handed from one generation to the other.”
“Our traditional values still equate to the values of the Church, and so we hand over the tradition to our young people undiluted and uncontaminated,” he continued, noting that a strong sense of community in the Church is something “very important that Europe can learn from Africa.”
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