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US Organizes the Second Ministerial to Advance International Religious Freedom. By Lambert Mbom.

Washington D.C. – Over one thousand religious leaders and civil society delegates are gathering at the U.S. State department for the second Ministerial to advance Religious Freedom from Tuesday July 16th through Thursday July 18th, 2019. This is coming on the heels of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s Report released last May and the State department’s annual report last June which highlight “the continuing and complex challenges to religious freedom.”

“This year’s event will be the biggest religious freedom event ever held in the world, said Ambassador Brownback. “We hope that this will stir actions. That’s what we’re after is to stir action.”

Banking on the success of the inaugural event that took place last year, Brownback is hoping that this year’s event will galvanize grassroots mobilization. And this is not unprecedented given a similar feat had been attained with the fight against human trafficking.

“Ultimately, we’re after a grassroots movement. We want one in the religious freedom space as well, and that the religious actors would stand up for each other,” declared Ambassador Brownback in a telephonic presser last Friday. “It’s a big deal to this administration. It is a big deal to the people of the world. The world has not paid enough attention to what’s taking place here and the plight of so many people that have been injured, and over 70 percent of the world lives in a religious-restrictive environment and many cases, unfortunately a deadly environment. So, we hope to really push back and start this grassroots movement seriously to push back against it,” added Brownback.

The weeklong event is divided into three parts with the first day focusing on “Expanding the Conversation on Religious Freedom” where discussions will focus on “opportunities and challenges for promoting and defending religious freedom globally.” Then there will be a shift on how to forge a partnership between international freedom, international development and humanitarian aid to advance mutual interests.

After the broad strokes laid down on day one participants will take a deep dive into the issues raised. These sessions shall focus on three thematic tracks namely Building Blocks for Advancing Religious Freedom, Emerging Trends in Religious Freedom, Religious Freedom in Development and Humanitarian Assistance best practices for religious freedom advocacy;

On the third day, sessions will focus on governments’ role with a keynote address and call to action by Secretary of State Pompeo, Vice President Michael Pence and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Participants will take part in plenary sessions focused on “identifying global challenges to religious freedom; developing innovative responses to persecution on the basis of religion; and sharing new commitments to protect religious freedom for all.”

The international gathering kicked off Monday with a solemn event at the Holocaust Museum and will conclude Thursday at the National Museum for African American History and Culture.

Given the enormous interest this topic has garnered, a “Second Stage” has been set up with 80 parallel events taking place at the Marvin Center on the campus of George Washington University.

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French Hegemony over Africa – The Case of African Nations’ Cup 2019. By Lambert Mbom.

There is an unmistakable “Africanness” with the French Soccer team and Trevor Noah, the South African comedian loudly proclaimed this after the French team won the 2018 World Cup. After France conquered parts of Africa since the Scramble for Africa in 1884, they have never left Africa. With the dawn of independence in the 1960’s, they moved to the background and simply propped up dictators to do their bidding.

There is no France without Africa. France continues to maintain a stranglehold over her former colonies politically and economically. There is an increasing backlash over the French imperialistic and anachronistic colonial pact that continues to impoverish 14 African countries. One other area the French have maintained this hegemony over Africa is in soccer. Africans love soccer and it is the most famous sports on the continent. It is a useful distraction.

The 32nd edition of the African Nations’ Cup is currently taking place in Egypt, the land of the Pharaohs and a distinctively African nation. Yet the soccer bonanza carries an unvarnished French flavor in particular and a European accent in general.

The main sponsor of the event is the French Oil and gas magnate, Total. This company is present in 42 countries in Africa, 21 of which are taking part in the 2019 African Nations’ Cup.  No wonder they are the main sponsors of the event.

Anyone who doubts the nefarious influence of France and its French companies, it suffices to listen to the Former Senegalese Minister of energy, Thierno Allasane Sall who resigned in protest over an oil deal with Total. In an interview he gave last January he remarked that:

“France is pressuring Senegal to obtain oil and gas exploitation. I cannot sign a document where the French company Total which was in 5th position to acquire the market according to the experts, suddenly becomes number 1 after pressure on President Macky Sall. What happens there is happening everywhere in Africa. ”

He described the French machinations as coup plotters and nation destabilizers when they don’t get their way. Thierno affirmed that “France is ready to wage war on you, a coup d’etat, or to raise a whole rebellion to impose a contract. They impose their deal and if you do not want you clear.” Oil has rightly been described as the resource curse of Africa.

Then we have the French Multinational telecommunications network: Orange also sponsoring the event. This giant is present across 20 countries of Africa 11 of which are currently taking part in the soccer jamboree. How about the South African behemoth, MTN with the largest number of mobile phone users in Africa?

Beyond sponsorship, we also find French domination with the technical staff of the different teams. Seven of the 24 coaches managing African teams at this competition are white French citizens namely Sebastien Desabre (Uganda), Nicholas Dupuis (Madagascar), Sebastien Magne (Kenya), Corentin Martins (Mauritania), Alain Giresse (Tunisia), Herve Renard (Morocco), Michel Dussuyer (Benin).

Five other teams are managed by Europeans German Gernot Rohr (Nigeria), Belgian Paul Put (Guinea), Serbian Srdjan Vasiljevic(Angola), Englishman Stuart Baxter (South Africa) and Dutchman Clarence Seedorf (Cameroon) and one by Mexican Javier Aguirre (Egypt).

We have 11 African coaches with Nigerian Emmanuel Amuneke the only one coaching a country other than his.

France has always been a favorite destination for African soccer players. According to Karim Farouk of Ahram Online,  “France is a second home for African players…Out of the 552 players who will feature in the tournament, 95 are playing in France — mostly in Ligue 1 and other lower divisions.”

Vestiges of European colonial domination loom large with the outfits of the different teams. The German giant PUMA has the highest number of contracts. It is supplier to Egypt, Senegal, Angola, Cote D’Ivoire and Ghana. Meanwhile, the other German competitor Adidas has Algeria and Morocco.

The British outfit Umbro supplies Zimbabwe and the Irish O’Neills is supplying to the DRC while Italian Kappa is responsible for Tunisia and Macron, the other Italian Sportswear company is responsible for Guinea and Kenya. The French brand Airness is responsible for Mali while Le Coq Sportif is responsible for Cameroon’s outfits.

The non-European companies supplying are the American superstar Nike which is serving Nigeria, Burundi and South Africa whereas the Australian Gazman is supplying Madagascar.

The lone African company on this dais is Moroccan AB Sport availed of by Mauritania. Africans must learn to consume African products especially with the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

Last February, the African Development Bank launched the Pan African Fashion Initiative to promote African textiles and garments. During the launch, Ethiopian President noted that “Globally, Africa’s cultural colours and clothing are increasingly being embraced.”

The biennial soccer event provides a great and unique opportunity for African countries especially the textile giants Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Morocco, South African and Tunisia to showcase their worth. If nothing else at least they should be able to take advantage during competitions like these to make the textile industry bloom.

Unless African nations shrug off their sentimental attachment to France, she will remain to paraphrase Shakespeare “Like flies to wanton boys are…They kill us for their sport.” Wake up Africa.

A Rejoinder to Cameroon’s Foreign Minister’s Address to the 73rd General Assembly of the United Nations. By Lambert Mbom

 

On Thursday September 27th2018, La Republique du Cameroun’s Minister of External Relations Lejeune Mbella Mbella addressed the 73rd session of United Nations’ General Assembly (UNGA). The minister spent 19 of the 25 minutes he spoke skirting around the real issues and in the remainder of the six minutes addressed the hydra-headed foreign affairs monster namely the Ambazonia quagmire. It was a shameful outing filled with lies, historical aberrations and fallacies.

In his opening words, Mbella Mbella hailed this moment as historic given that the UNGA current President is a woman only the fourth to accede to this position in the institution’s 73-year history. While this is quite symbolic, it pales in comparison to the fact that Paul Biya, Mbella’s boss and the colonial dictator of Cameroon has been President for half of the years of the existence of the United Nations. And could not show up at this year’s meeting due to the fact that he was launching a campaign ahead of presidential elections whose results have already been well packaged and he prepares to declare himself winner for another seven-year mandate.

No wonder then that H.E. Maria Fernanda Espinosa is only the fourth woman to become president of the General assembly in the over seven decades of the U.N.’s existence. Octogenarian and nonagenarian strongmen like Paul Biya have not only held their people hostage but also cast a spell on the international order by surrounding and shielding themselves with strong old men and soothsayers like Mbella Mbella. It may be of interest to note that Cameroon currently has only one female ambassador and she is only the third in history.

Mbella shamelessly opines that “The corporatist claims of the teachers’ and lawyers’ unions which lie at the heart of the situation have continued to be subject to negotiations with these social and professional groups.” This is so pathetic to note that the Minister and Cameroon’s government are still stuck in 2016 when the current crisis began as concerns of trade unions. It is this ostrich-like mentality and myopia of the barbaric regime of Biya that feels compelled to conveniently circumscribe the problems to being an issue of teachers and lawyers that has led it to be dogged in its heels. This regime is so moronic that it cannot make the distinction and relationship between symptoms and malady. They could not see or have failed to acknowledge that the problems raised by teachers and lawyers were symptomatic of deep seated simmering and systemic issues. Those corporatist claims morphed and exposed the systemic issues that had plagued an ill-fated “union” with the entire people of former United Nations trustee territory of British Southern Cameroons.

And for the Minister to claim that negotiations have continued with these unions is a lie. Has the minister forgotten that they jailed leaders of the consortium forced others into exile and later extradited them with the complicity of Nigeria?

“Unfortunately, Mr. President which is unfortunate to say from this rostrum, some individuals that are ruthless and lawless have tried to transform these socio professional concerns into demands for secession which aim to break up the state without any regard for constitutional and democratic mechanisms.” This is truly unfortunate that a minister would tell such brazen lies from the sacred rostrum on such a global stage. La Republique is bandying around the term secessionists in the hope that with this tag, the people will back down and chicken out. A cursory look at the history of Cameroon will challenge this characterization. We must remind the minister that the union between Southern Cameroons and French Cameroon is a constitutional monstrosity. With hindsight, it is worth stating that there has always been a grand scheme from the get-go for La Republique to annex and recolonize Southern Cameroons. Cameroon is built on a lie. No wonder the custodians of that patrimony continue to peddle more lies to defend it. But soon the deluge! In the context of the constitutional malpractice and the constitutional illegalities that define the Cameroon experiment, it would be instructive for the minister and his cronies to read the Buea Declaration of April 1993. This landmark document paints the contours of the constitutional rape which began in April 1960 even before the union came into force and declares forcefully that “No valid constitutional or other legal basis has ever existed for the reunification of the two Cameroons and for the common governance of the two territories.”

While this annexation project kicked off in April 1960 with the discovery of oil in Southern Cameroons, the recolonization project was fast tracked and in abrogation of the terms of the union, then President Ahidjo unilaterally imposed a referendum with the majority of citizens of La Republique partaking and invariably overwhelming the minority Southern Cameroonians. The supposed “Union” was designed to be two federated states. In flagrant disregard, a bogus referendum in 1972 led to the dissolution of the two states federation. This led to the chimera called United Republic of Cameroon.

And barely 12 years later, Emperor Paul Biya sealed the deal whereby with a stroke of the pen changed the name of the country from the United Republic of Cameroon to The Republic of Cameroon which is the name former United Nations trustee territory French Cameroon adopted when it gained independence on 1st of January 1960. It is worth noting that a name change is a very significant development in the life of any person and in the life of any nation. Mr. Minister lets state the facts clearly: La Republique already seceded from the botched union. This is a clear instance of the pot calling the kettle black. When you look into the mirror if you have the courage to, all you see is your face.

There was a golden opportunity for the government of La Republique to correct the constitutional gaffe and that was in 1996 when the constitution was revised. Ahead of this, the aggrieved people of Southern Cameroons got together and first in 1993 called for a return to the two states federation. When this request fell on deaf ears, a second conclave held in Bamenda in 1994 and came up with a Proclamation. The Bamenda Proclamation warned the government of La Republique that if she failed to take action the people of Southern Cameroons would be forced to “proclaim the revival of the independence and sovereignty of the Anglophone territory of the Southern Cameroons and take all measures necessary to secure, defend and preserve the independence, sovereignty and integrity of the said territory.” The government’s response was characteristic and predictable: wanton arrests and detention, brutal use of naked force to railroad the people of Southern Cameroons to accept the lie of a unitary state.

It is quite ludicrous that the minister talks of constitutionality when strangely the crisis of the North West and South West regions has never ever been addressed by the Parliament and Senate in Cameroon.

Talking of democratic mechanisms, Southern Cameroonians have availed of different avenues such as the African Union, the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the International Court of Justice and lodged complaints but given the international conspiracy, they have been treated like orphans. But the world must remember that no matter how long the night is, day must dawn. And Lejeune and his cronies must note that the thief has 99 days but one day the owner will repossess his property. We seem to be on the 98th day!

What is more, the minister further intimates that “the government welcomes the fact that the entire people of Cameroon and above all the populations of these two regions have rejected any attempts at secession.”This is quite a laughable tale. Clearly the minister is under the illusion that lackeys, stooges and crumb gatherers like Atanga Nji, Philemon Yang, Ngole Ngole speak for any people but themselves. Mr. Minister when and how did the people of Ambazonia reject their independence? I hope you have watched some of the videos of the celebrations last October 1st when Ambazonians came out to celebrate Independence Day. Are you insinuating that those fighting for the restoration of independence are foreigners? Yes, we are foreigners in La Republique. It is wishful thinking to continue this parody in the pious hope that someday beggars would ride. We understand that you have an aversion for numbers and so any figment of your imagination such as your current claim is what you package and sell. If you are courageous enough why not ask the UN to come and supervise a referendum on this question and let’s see who is living a fool’s paradise? Don’t be fooled: even those you think and believe are with you share the aspirations and spirit of the Ambazonia revolution. They just lack the moral courage and political wherewithal to manifest this. On this I can dare you that over three quarters of Ambazonians want an independent state.

 Shamelessly the minister maintains that “In light of the aforementioned the government is working to restore peace and security in the two regions with respect for human rights and rules and laws of the Republic.” These are mere words that even the person uttering them does not believe in. Your Excellency, there can be no peace without justice. And justice in its most common and basic meaning is giving to each what is their due…For the people of Ambazonia, it is simply the restoration of the independence. Peace is not just the absence of war. And did I hear mention of human rights? The world knows or should know by now that using La Republique and human rights in the same sentence is not just a linguistic aberration but also an anomaly in reality. Everybody has seen the videos of the military junta executing women and children at close range after labeling them Boko Haram terrorists.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg. When the world will wake up to the atrocities of la Republique du Cameroun against the people of Ambazonia, even the corpses of the perpetrators would be exhumed for trial and condemnation. The government of Cameroun is after an elusive peace. Coercing the people into a doomed and damned union is just a recipe for disaster. Biya and his ilk should have gotten the message by now: a union is not forced and is not even possible!

Once more being sensitive to the fate of the concerned population, the President of the Republic has decided to implement an emergency humanitarian plan with a provisional budget of 12.7 billion fcfa.” This is the most ludicrous pronouncement. Biya declares war on the people of Ambazonia and turns around with an emergency humanitarian plan? This is a smokescreen. The kleptocratic despot just created a cash cow to satisfy the insatiable corrupt appetites of the governing mafia. After razing villages with your scorched earth policy, then sending armed thugs in name of military to shoot and destroy innocent civilians whose only crime is them activating their inalienable right to self-determination. The most egregious violation of human rights is the annexation and recolonization of the people of Ambazonia. And to add salt to injury, killing these innocent people for standing up for this right.

The Minister then proceeds to disgrace his master by claiming that they “…have shown our openness to dialogue but in strict respect of the institution and laws of the Republic.” When you label people as terrorists, how do you dialogue with them? Recently, the US had talks with the Talibans they had been combatting in Afghanistan over the last two decades. This should be a lesson to the warlords of La Republique. You can never win in a guerilla warfare. The time for dialogues has long passed. Ambazonians begged and pleaded with you but in characteristic Machiavellian fashion displayed a masochistic bravado and swore that Ambazonia will rise only over your corpse.

No doubt Mr. Minister you claim that “Robust measures have already been taken to remedy the situation. For example, the creation of the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism as well as a fully-fledged ministry responsible for decentralization.” One would have expected you to show that your commission is working and for once address this noble assembly in English and French. What is more, you proved the point: with the wrong diagnosis, you could only get such out of target and lack of focus solution, as decentralization. It is worth stating for the umpteenth time: the independence of Ambazonia is non-negotiable. It is not a matter of if but rather when.

The minister tops off his lies “To conclude, Cameroon whose independence was conducted and guided by the UN will like to restate its faith in our organization but also its attachment to peace and stability basic resources without which no development is possible.” Mr. Minister, the country you represent had its independence on January 1st 1960 while Ambazonia gained its independence on October 1st 1961. Yes the UN supervised both but did not complete the latter. This is why it is the UN’s responsibility to listen and address the recriminations of its former Trustee territory. It is unconscionable for the UN to claim that the destiny of the people of Ambazonia was foreclosed with the union with La Republique.

The UN General Assembly adopted as its theme for this session: “Making the United Nations relevant to all people: global leadership and shared responsibilities for peaceful, equitable and sustainable societies.” The people of Ambazonia need the UN to become relevant to them. In the Political document signed at the Nelson Mandela Peace summit, the UN pledged to move beyond words in the promotion of peaceful, just, inclusive and non-discriminatory societies…for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.” The current crisis presents a unique opportunity for the UN to deliver on that promise. The UN must stand up to bullies like La Repubqlique du Cameroun. The crisis is not a domestic conflict or an internal matter. Even if it were it is not by merely wishing it that peace will reign. One wonders if the UN has learnt any lessons from the past? The time to act is now! The UN cannot trust the words of an abusive partner hoping that he will do the right thing. This problem was created by the UN and it is the UN’s to fix!

World Mental Health Day 2018

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This year’s theme focused on “Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World.” Teen suicide rates in the United States of America are on the rise. This is a strange phenomenon among Africans . Last June the Cameroon Community of the D.C. area was in shock when a young man committed suicide. It turned out he had been diagnosed with a mental disorder.

While the world reflects on the mental health of our young people, I would like on this day to reflect on the mental health of African immigrant men in the United States of America. When a woman divorces a man, hardly does anyone of them go into counseling to deal with the delirious effects of the previous marriage. Many simply move on as if the past is a non-event. A lot of wounds, hurts, regrets and bitterness that need sorting through and sorting out for a healthy kick off. A lot of domestic violence happens as a result of too much pent up anger, rancor and unresolved tensions that boil over. Isn’t there some truth to the song recently distributed on whatsapp about Cameroonian men in Maryland who spend hours dousing alcohol and liquor in the hope of avoiding and filtering out the noise from home?

It would be interesting to find out how many of us have ever seen a counselor for anything? Ask the next friend you meet when they last had a mental health check up and if that conversation lasts beyond a second then you are lucky. Why is there a recommendation for an annual physical and no recommendation for an annual mental health examination. Just as we need physicians so do we need mental health specialists call them therapists, psychologists or psychiatrists. Did I mention psychiatrists? What a taboo!

Dear friends, it is not a taboo to have mental health issues. Too many of us are depressed and are seeking for answers in the wrong place. It is not witchcraft! Do not be fooled that you have been bewitched by an uncle or an aunt envious of your family success! It is real and there is help out there.

My dear brothers, mental health is a big business venture in D.C. We who take care of persons with mental challenges need to take care of ourselves too. Very often, we are just a step away from the persons we take care of. Mental illness is becoming an alarming trend in our African immigrant community and let us start sounding the alarm bells. For men only? Nego! The Good News: There is so much help!

African Immigrants and African Americans in DC Celebrate Our Lady Mother of Africa. By Lambert Mbom.

 

20180924_234816-booklet-for-mass-e1537867657878.jpgThe Arabic expression “Assalaam Alaikum” which literally means “Peace be unto you,” a standard Muslim greeting echoed from the altar of the Upper Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Immaculate Conception during the sign of peace. Over 350 African immigrants and African Americans of the archdiocese of Washington DC metro congregated in Mary’s shrine on Sunday September 16 to celebrate the annual mother of Africa pilgrimage.

“We are on pilgrimage to the house of the mother of Jesus,” said Msgr. Eddie Tollentino main celebrant and homilist. “We ask for her intercession under the title of Mother of Africa. We have come to gain deeper insight and intimacy with Mary’s only begotten son.”

This mass marked the 21st anniversary of the dedication of the chapel of Our Mother of Africa, one of over 70 chapels that make up and adorn the towering edifice of Catholicism in the nation’s capital. This chapel is tucked between the Crypt Church and the Our Lady of Lourdes chapel (which mirrors the Lourdes Grotto). It is the one spot where Africa features into the “tapestry of the Catholic faith” and the “mosaic of this great nation.” Small in size with a holding capacity of less than 20 persons, it harbors the distinctive artistic acuity of a Black Jesus and the image of a Black Madonna beckoning on the slavery ridden history of this great nation depicted in the bas relief on the wall of the chapel.

With Hurricane Florence raging in the Carolinas and many people having left home out of necessity, many have become part of the Diaspora, noted Msgr. Tollentino. This is the same experience of the prophet Isaiah in the First Reading who lived in exile not because of any hurricane but because his country people had become a rebellious people. It is also the experience of the African diaspora that had gathered in the nation’s capital. No matter what Diaspora you might be from, there is only one place we can come for healing: Jesus Christ.

He exhorted the community to seek the truth explaining that truth comes from hearing and the word of God. And with faith comes action.

“Our faith should be pulsating through our veins in the same way as the music,” said Tollentino.

The richness of African liturgical music came to life as the angelic voices of the Marie Reine du Monde Choir of the Francophone community of St Camillus’s parish animated. Not only did the prayers of the faithful receive the African flavor with renditions in dialects from Cameroon, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Ethiopia but also most of the songs originated from the heart of Mother Africa with songs in Ibo(Nigeria), Swahili, Bawule (Cote D’Ivoire), Serere (Senegal) among others.

While applauding the Africans who showed up for this celebration, Dr. Seikor Bundu, President of the African Catholic Association of the DC metro area regretted the fact that in spite of the groundwork his team put in place many Africans did not show up to fill the Upper Church of the Basilica.

Conspicuously absent at this year’s celebration was the traditional visit to the chapel itself during which people took turns to pray, like at last year’s. Many persons however spent some private moments there after the mass.

Visibly present at the celebration were Marian groups especially from Cameroon with the distinctive Catholic Women’s Association (CWA) – and the Catholic Women’s Organization (CWO) outfit.

Worth noting is the fact that the Mother of Africa chapel and its architectural accoutrements are gifts of the African American Bishops and National Black Catholic Congress (NABC). The scared dialogue that the chapel conjures is one that needs to be happening more between African immigrants and African Americans.

NABC describes the work of arts in the chapel thus: “The statue of Our Mother of Africa holding the Christ Child faces a bas-relief in the nave, which chronicles the African-American odyssey, and draws us to the Crucified Christ in the sanctuary.”

“It is good to see the African Diaspora in the Basilica of the National Shrine,” said Sandra Coles-Bell, program director of the Office of Cultural Diversity and outreach of the archdiocese of Washington DC who organized this mass.

Book Review: The Mysterious Ways of God. By Lambert Mbom

20180711_163710After ten years as a priest of the diocese of Buea, Cameroon, part of which he served as Editor-in-chief of Catholic Panorama, (a monthly publication of the diocese of Buea) Fr Wilfred Emeh explored missionary endeavors in the United States landing first in Maryland, the indisputable Cameroonian hub in the US. The rude awakening that the universality of the Catholic Church had some geographical colorings stunned him as he found it near impossible to find room and board in local presbyteries. With this hurdle, came the detour that brought this young priest to Birmingham, Alabama of all places. Buoyed by the urgency of the mission and burdened with the prejudice of the dark history of Alabama and race relations, this African with a heavy accent took the risk. He “put out into the deep” and after four years he was bursting at the seams with gratitude. After a four years’ stint at Our lady of Sorrows parish, Alabama where Fr Wilfred Emeh had spent time joggling academic chores and pastoral responsibilities, he imagined what gift he could offer this unsuspectingly gregarious community. His answer is in a book, “The Mysterious Ways of God: A Memoir of Love, Trials and Friendships.”

There is a certain myth that African priests who travel to the United States of America do not face the same challenges of immigration that many of their lay confreres go through. It is that gilded notion of the priesthood that many especially in Africa hail. But nego! While the legal Rubicon of getting asylum is hardly their problem, they are not vaccinated against the numerous cultural shocks. In eight short chapters, the author recounts the story of how a Cameroonian priest navigated the complex vicissitudes wont of emigrating to the United States and settling in the deep South of all places and against all odds and becoming the enfant Cherie of his home away from home. It is a book for priests and religious seeking an understanding of the complexities that undergird ministry in the United States of America and how to navigate these.

In appraising this piece of literary gem, I could not help but borrow from St Paul’s admonition to the Philippians 4:8: Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…then the God of peace will be with you.” These qualities are reflected in the 104 pages, Fr Emeh pens adding to an already rich pedigree. In four years, Fr Wilfred Emeh had successfully bagged a master’s degree in Communications and has written two books. Paul lays out eight qualities namely true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellence, praiseworthy which could be applicable to this new publication. Of the foregoing qualities, four are worth considering namely true, gracious, just and excellence.

Some of us had the privilege of consuming an overdose of literature as we grew up. I remember the fictional acuity of Hadley Chase and the romantic escapades momentarily albeit of the celebrated Mills and Boons. With the “Mysterious Ways of God,” Fr Emeh lays bare the truth of his experience. There is a certain vulnerability that comes with writing a memoir yet the priest challenges himself to unravel the mysteries of the divine in his daily encounters in Alabama. One thing that shines through this work is how Fr Wilfred wraps in the best of the three Popes he has been privileged to live through their papacy. In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI invites us to the abiding truth that: Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with a person which gives life a new horizon.” Pope Francis develops this further and invites us to a “culture of encounter.” He reminds us that “Faith is an encounter with Jesus, and we must do what Jesus does: encounter others.” And like Pope St John Paul II, Fr Emeh draws from the inspiring “Memory and Identity” to share his experiences. It is Jesus Christ who brings Fr Epie to Our Lady of Sorrows where he encounters the same Christ making him present to the people. One way of reading this text is invariably then that of the encounter of two cultures made possible by the person of Jesus Christ through the priest (an African black man) and a predominantly white community (Our Lady of Sorrows) with a sordid history of racial tensions (Birmingham, Alabama).

The unmistakable point one comes away with is the fact that this priest listened attentively to the following words Bishop Pius Awa of Blessed memory addressed to him on the day of his ordination fourteen years ago: When you baptize you will bring men and women into the people of God. In the sacrament of penance, you will forgive sins in the name of Christ and the Church. With Holy oils, you will relive and console the sick. You will celebrate the liturgy, offer thanks and praise to God throughout the day, praying not only for the people of God but for the whole world.” This book reads like an account of Fr Emeh’s stewardship over the last four years while in the United States of America. It is a memoir, a memory of the first African priest to serve in Alabama. It is neither a work of fiction nor is it draped in the dreary theological platitudes.

The gracious seems to be the single leitmotif underpinning this work. It is a story of the inscrutable work of grace. There is no doubt that becoming a priest is the work of grace. It was breathtaking reading how the author almost called off his ordination during a retreat until the reassuring words of Our Lady to him: “I will help you, do not be afraid.” Thirteen years later Fr chose Fatima, a famous Marian apparition site, to do a pilgrimage in honor of the Blessed Mother, Mary. The mystery of being a priest, of being alive and ministering in Alabama, could only be the mysterious intervention of grace.

It would have been an epic failure of sorts if the author failed to address the current malaise affecting his country of origin, Cameroon. Since 2016, Cameroon has been mired in a crisis that has spiraled out of control and trudging to the precipice. As a priest, he answered the call of his prophetic ministry and used the barrel of the pen to communicate his thoughts on the struggle. Even in the midst of the crisis, Fr Emeh displayed his ecclesiological magistracy at the demise of Bishop Balla of the diocese of Bafia, Cameroon who had been brutally assassinated and dumped in a river with a fake suicide note left in his car. Without the ethnicity bias, this priest wrote: “Additionally, the current crisis plaguing our homeland is a wakeup call to the clergy and God’s people in Cameroon, and to the church as a whole, because an attack on one of us is an attack on the entire Body of Christ.” (p.71). In a series of social media postings, Fr Epie addressed the inherent question of justice underlying the current political quagmire that has gripped Cameroon. He extends to the assassinated Bishop a courtesy that Francophone Bishops have not been able to extend to Ambazonian Bishops. Beyond his prophetic voice, Fr Emeh has now dedicated his work to humanitarian and relief services for the aggrieved people of Ambazonia. He has accepted and become a board member of the Cameroon Humanitarian and relief Initiative, an apolitical organization. They have been actively engaged with the refugees in Nigeria and feeding political prisoners in Cameroon. There is no peace without justice!

Fr Emeh’s piece is an excellent piece of literary wizardry. It makes for easy reading and quite entertaining. One of the best stories Fr tells is of his classmate, an African American girl who is 23 and tries to woo him and when this fails she tries to hook him up with her sister. To find out how that story ends and many more get a copy from EWTN’s Religious catalogue.

 

 

Rev Fr Jaap Nielen: Rest in Perfect Peace! By Lambert Mbom

I spent the school year 1996/1997 gaining pastoral experience at St Gabriel’s parish Bafmeng. During that year, late Archbishop Verdzekov came on pastoral visit. One of the surprising guests who showed up to welcome the archbishop was the Ardo (the community leader of the Fulanis). After exchanging usual pleasantries, the Ardo stated the real intention of his visit: He had come on behalf of his community to plead with the archbishop to bring back Fr Nielen whom he had transferred to St Anthony’s parish, Njinikom in 1995 so he could be closer to the hospital. The Ardo left really disappointed because the Archbishop painstakingly explained that Fr Nielen would not be returning to Bafmeng where he had served for 13 years.

Fr Nielen had left an indelible mark on the lives of the entire Bafmeng community without prejudice to religion. Bafmeng is a typical African traditional society with a weekly market day that rotates on a calendar determined by traditional norms. This weekly event saw the parish transformed into a beehive as people from across the hills and valleys thronged in to receive medication, clothing and/or cash. His unparalleled largesse enthralled the community.  Fr Nielen was an extremely generous and charitable man. While the world spoke of a Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the people of the archdiocese of Bamenda had a Fr Nielen.

In seeking to discern the secret to Fr Nielen’s charity, I found the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta quite apt and resonant with the spirit he engendered. Cardinal Sarah Prefect for the Congregation on Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments describes this in his seminal work, The Power of Silence. Mother Teresa shared her secret thus:

“Do you think that I could practice charity if I did not ask Jesus every day to fill my heart with his love? Do you think that I could go through the streets looking for the poor if Jesus did not communicate the fire of his charity to my heart? Without God, we are too poor to be able to help the poor!”

Fr Nielen was not a social worker but a missionary and never lost side of He who sent him. He brought the poor to God and brought God to the power. True charity is an expression of genuine prayer. Fr Nielen’s first act of charity lies in his acceptance of God’s call to bring the Gospel to Cameroon. Being a missionary is undoubtedly a great act of charity. Most Mill Hill Missionaries went above and beyond to also cater for the material needs of their missions. Fr Nielen took this to a whole different level.

Pope Francis’ portrait of the priest beautifully expressed in his 2013 homily for Chrism mass revealed something true of this missionary disciple.

The priest who seldom goes out of himself, who anoints little – I won’t say “not at all” because, thank God, the people take the oil from us anyway – misses out on the best of our people, on what can stir the depths of his priestly heart. Those who do not go out of themselves, instead of being mediators, gradually become intermediaries, managers. We know the difference: the intermediary, the manager, “has already received his reward”, and since he doesn’t put his own skin and his own heart on the line, he never hears a warm, heartfelt word of thanks. This is precisely the reason for the dissatisfaction of some, who end up sad – sad priests – in some sense becoming collectors of antiques or novelties, instead of being shepherds living with “the odour of the sheep”. This I ask you: be shepherds, with the “odour of the sheep”, make it real, as shepherds among your flock, fishers of men.

Fr Nielen bore the marks of a true  shepherd even for professional shepherds “ganakos” such as the fulanis in Bafmeng who took offence at the fact that he had to be transferred to a different parish.

Fr Jaap Nielen was born on January 28th 1928, the feast of St Thomas Aquinas. He became a Mill Hill Missionary on July 13th 1952 and bagged a doctorate degree in Philosophy in 1955. He took appointment in Cameroon in 1960 and left in 2003. He transitioned to meet the Lord on February 23 and was laid to rest on February 28, 2018.

In September 1995, Fr Nielen had the unenvious task to preach the annual retreat to seminarians of the St Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary, Bambui, Cameroon. One could hardly tell that this soft spoken priest had a doctorate in Philosophy. His demeanor did not betray his intellectual prowess. He did not speak of the Metaphysics of Being or the epistemological provenance of the Truth or any of the esoteric accoutrements of the philosophical disciplines. In fact if one could hazard a guess, one would have thought he had bagged a terminal degree in Spirituality. Nego! This philosopher drew from the rich treasury of 40 years of the priesthood as a missionary to Africa. He spoke from the heart and reeked of the odor of his sheep: “The Anawims of Yahweh – the poorest of the poor.” He exhorted us to make our ministry that of and for the poor. Dr Nielen’s doctorate in philosophy rather became a doctorate of poverty.

The endearing lesson of this retreat animated the students that years after one of the retreatants James Nkuo signs off all his emails with the inspirational words of Fr Nielen: “It is not what you do that is important but the love with which you do it.”

There could not have been a better choice to inspire seminarians aspiring to the priesthood especially given that he had served as Vocations Director of the archdiocese of Bamenda and what is more had three of his spiritual sons studying in the seminary at the time.

Fr Nielen was a great storyteller. This art had been perfected I guess through his interaction with the poor. Christ used parables to teach and thus one could see he was in touch with his environment and his community.  Following his master’s experience, Fr Nielen so much a man of his community that he preached the Good News with uncanny simplicity and yet

One of the tragedies that shot him to “prominence” is the Lake Nyos gas disaster of 1986. Fr Nielen was one of the first responders to the victims of nature’s redness in tooth and claw. I just read the letter he is said to have written to Archbishop Paul Verdzekov shortly after he returned from visiting the disaster area. He wrote inter alia:

“On Friday rumors reached us that the lake had killed some Fulani man and his cows. Then again that the quarter head of Cha was lying dead in his compound with his two women. On Saturday morning, I was so worried that I went there with my two catechists…”

I spent a month in Buabua, one of the resettlement camps of the victims of the Nyos disaster. The journey to that part of that parish took weeks to prepare. The journey to Ise, the closest motorable outstation of the parish to the disaster area is at the least two hours 30 minutes. The Nyos disaster occurred in August, in the heart of the rainy season when the roads are near impassable. It is striking to note that when Fr Nielen heard of the news he did not send others to go and explore the area and come back to report to him. He definitely had mass in the parish the next day given it was a Sunday. That would have been a valid excuse. Yet, he was so worried that he set off on that treacherous journey to be with the people during that moment of infinite pathos and vulnerability.  Life had been snuffed out of approximately 1700 persons and “Jaap” moved through those villages without fear assessing the needs and burying the dead.

The pain of this veritable pastor was palpable as he recounted: “No Christian of Nyos came to greet me and cry with me. The Church of Nyos had died, with Mattias, the head Christian and Nazarius, the catechist and Mary, the choir mistress.”

What an exceptional feat of courage. The courage of a pastor whose sole task is the wellbeing of the people he has been called to serve and minister to. It is this same courage that inspired him to become a missionary leaving the comfort of Holland to the hinterlands of Bafmeng. No doubt he had as one of his mantras, “life no be na joke!” – Life is not a joke!

By sheer dint of luck, Fr Nielen died a few days after American Evangelist Billy Graham. He had just celebrated his 90th birthday anniversary and 65th anniversary of the priesthood. This year is also the 90th anniversary of the Oscars. And so the Oscar for missionary activity goes to Fr Nielen who was laid to rest on Wednesday February 28, 2018.

Two of his spiritual persons Fr Emmanuel Nuh and Fr Anthony Bangsi spent some time with Fr Nielen prior to his demise and left us with an endearing souvenir of Fr Nielen. The magic of his melodious voice rings out in this audio

 

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