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Paul Tizibong Atang honors Msgr. Patrick Lafon’s legacy. By Lambert Mbom

Three months after the passing to eternity of Msgr. Patrick Lafon, American business magnate and philanthropist, Paul Atang recently donated lifesaving medical equipment to the St Blaise Catholic hospital, Mankon in the archdiocese of Bamenda, Cameroon.

COVID19 exposed and exacerbated the huge health deficits of healthcare systems especially in Africa and while the tsunami of deaths many feared would sweep through Africa did not come to fruition, its tragedy continues to reverberate.

The lack of oxygen at the St Blaise hospital, a few meters away from Fr Lafon’s residence on the hallowed Cathedral grounds led to his demise given that by the time he got to the Regional hospital in Bamenda, it was late. Learning about this, that one who had dedicated his entire life serving God’s people would exit so unceremoniously moved Paul to tears and catapulted him to action.

He immediately set out to work and sought first to establish the whys and wherefores and discovered the dire needs of the budding hospital. Upon receiving a laundry list of things that this hospital needed, Atang had the privilege of his classmate Dr Moka Lantum, a medical doctor, cum social entrepreneur based in Nairobi, Kenya, offering his expertise to guide the selection of appropriate medical devices. Not only did he make the selection, but also availed of his business acumen to handle the logistics of obtaining this equipment.

On Wednesday May 26th, 23 boxes full of medical equipment arrived Bamenda and the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Bamenda, the Very Rev William Neba in awe and admiration at the magnanimity of Mr. Atang received the donation.  

“What else but immense gratitude to Paul for coming to the aid of the less privileged. Many lives will be saved by the generosity of Paul,” noted Fr Neba.

The consignment of goods includes one transport ventilator, four oxygen concentrators, 197 oxygen concentrator accessories, four vital sign monitors, five suction machines and five pulse oxymeters all purchased brand new and cleared at the Douala port at cut throat custom duties.

“Our intention is that if only one person can be saved as a result of this gesture, then we would have achieved what we set out to do,” declared Mr. Atang.

Archbishop Nkea, archbishop of Bamenda unavoidably absent due to pastoral commitments in Kom received the gifts officially on Wednesday June 3rd and handed them over to the matron, Sr Therese Bih and staff of St Blaise hospital. St Blaise hospital is managed by the Sisters of St Therese of the child Jesus.

“Amen to God Almighty we give all the glory. We are merely instruments He uses at His Will to achieve His Divine Desires,”   Mr. Atang wrote in a message to the Vicar General.

Mr. Paul Atang is the owner of Capital Care Inc – a renowned healthcare provider within the District of Columbia and Maryland that employs over 600 Africans and African Americans. It has had the enviable distinction of providing superlative services, maintaining excellence and integrity. True to the philosophy of the company he leads, these gifts are from “Gentle hearts and hands that care.”

Mr. Atang Paul is a “son of the soil’ with intimate roots to the Cathedral parish. His great grand father served as the first catechist of the cathedral parish. One cannot fail to notice that Mr. Atang’s unalloyed generosity brings home Pope Francis’ message on the 29th World Day of the Sick celebrated last February 11, 2021 where he noted: The theme of this Day is drawn from the Gospel passage in which Jesus criticizes the hypocrisy of those who fail to practise what they preach (cf. Mt 23:1-12). When our faith is reduced to empty words, unconcerned with the lives and needs of others, the creed we profess proves inconsistent with the life we lead. The danger is real. That is why Jesus uses strong language about the peril of falling into self-idolatry. He tells us: “You have but one teacher and you are all brothers”(v. 8).                                                                                                                                                

Msgr. Patrick Lafon: Priest, Prophet & Philosopher! Rest in Peace! By Lambert Mbom.

There is no shortage of models of the priesthood who inspire young men to become priests and if I could be a priest, Msgr. Lafon would have been the example of the kind of a priest I would have loved to be. He loved the priesthood and that made the difference. He enjoyed being a priest and served with distinction as a priest for 43 years. He radiated the joy of the priesthood which does not flow from the external accoutrements that seemingly characterize the sacred ministry but wells from within. There is no gainsaying it that Patrick Lafon exuded the dignity of the priesthood. Archbishop Quinn’s answer to the question: “Why would any man in his right mind want to be a Catholic priest today?” brings to bold relief the essence of Msgr. Lafon’s testimony of the priesthood:  “I believe . . . that this is the best time in the history of the Church to be a priest, because it is a time when there can be only one rea­son for being a priest or for remaining a priest—that is, to ‘be with’ Christ. It is not for perks or applause or respect or position or money or any other worldly gain or advantage.”

 He embodied very distinctly the response he proclaimed on the day of his ordination: “I am, I am, I am with the help of God.” One could see, hear, taste, smell and feel the charisma of the priesthood in the presence of Msgr. Patrick Lafon. Quite an elite priest without being elitist and Archbishop Nkea’s appointment of him as Vicar for Clergy was quite visionary.

After a 15-year stint at the National Episcopal Conference in Cameroon, one would have expected that his stay at Washington D.C would have given him many openings. He would have been the authority on the Church in Cameroon and the numerous opportunities that such would have opened for him at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. He sought no such favors preferring the low profile braving the storms and tempests as he took up abode at the humble rectory of St Theresa of Avila parish in the poor and dangerous neighborhood of South East, D.C.

Who takes a sabbatical to return to academia to pursue a terminal degree in Philosophy? The exceptional rigor of the Department of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America, no respecter of title of Father with the lingering vestiges of racism did not deter or impede Msgr. Lafon from sailing through to the end. Quite a feat in humility, the one endearing lesson of the legacy of Msgr. Patrick Lafon.

I watched in disbelief how together with his classmate and friend Fr William Neba, they would serve us food from their refrigerator and would clean the dishes after us who should have been serving them. That’s the reality of the priesthood in America.

Yet he left a distinctive footprint in his prophetic ministry. Speaking truth to power has been the forte of Msgr. Patrick Lafon even while he served in the lion’s den in Yaounde. His prophetic prowess came to light in his academic pursuits in Political Philosophy. He had learnt from the master, Archbishop Paul Verdzekov that the truth will set us free. He shouted from rooftops the truth that politics should not ipso facto be associated with evil especially in Africa. Buoyed by the wisdom of German born American Political scientist, Hannah Arendt whom Monsignor studied for his licentiate in Philosophy in Rome, which foundation is “fleshified” and fortified by the French Philosopher Yves Simon, Patrick proclaimed “virtue in politics!”

It takes the guts and grits of a prophet to stand on the side of a disenfranchised people and tell the truth to power. He was an unapologetic defender of the 2016 Memorandum of the Bamenda Provincial Episcopal Conference (BAPEC) which advocated a revision of the 1961 Constitution that guaranteed autonomous status of the people of former British Southern Cameroons. I can still hear his gentle voice in the hall of St Joseph’s metropolitan cathedral lambasting the goons of the infamous regime. Ask the Archbishop of Douala, then President of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon, Samuel Kleda, the forthright challenge Msgr. Lafon posed him during his visit to the South West and North West Regions in 2017 and the abysmal failure of the conference to stand with the Bishops of the region. His recent outing during the visit of Cardinal Secretary of State at the Vatican drives home the point when in his welcome address, Msgr. Lafon noted: “Cameroon has had the dubious distinction of graduating from 25 years of a one-party dictatorship to forty years of an oligarchy. In the process, juridical arrangements and agreements that founded this country as made up of West Cameroon and East Cameroon were jettisoned and a doomed process of assimilation embarked upon.” He called on the eminent prince of the Church to facilitate dialogue towards a mediated resolution of the “civil war” raging in the area. The death of Msgr. Lafon leaves of a gaping hole in the prophetic ministry at the service of justice and peace. He believed in the truth that there is no peace without justice and did not embrace the doctrine of peace at all cost even that of justice.

Msgr. Lafon was certainly not a stubborn, pigheaded critic “opposant” but a clear-minded person who respectfully and objectively stood for the truth,

And like Martin Luther King Jr stated, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” 

Msgr. Lafon’s prophetic ministry flows not only from his priestly ministry but also from his specialization in philosophy. One could describe Msgr. Lafon as a priest who became a philosopher or a philosopher who became a priest which are two sides of the same coin. Upon return from the stilted walls of the Catholic University of America, he returned to Bamenda where his services became crucial at the Catholic University of Cameroon, (CATUC), Bamenda. After holding the Chair of Philosophy at the said institution and offering lectures in Metaphysics and Epistemology at the John Paul II Major Seminary, Bachuo Ntai, Mamfe, Msgr. Lafon crowned his legacy in Philosophy just a month before his death with the launching of the doctoral program in Philosophy where he would have groomed other budding scholars in furtherance of the Latin adage: Bonum diffisivum sui – Goodness diffuses itself. But helas!

I can still hear his genteel voice gyrating on the rudiments of African Philosophy as he navigated the complex budding discipline. The endearing quality of this servant of God is his simplicity even in his razor-sharp criticality. Patrick Lafon would have agreed with Randall Smith’s conclusion that there is some truth in Alfred North Whitehead’s dictum that “‘Philosophy begins in wonder’ and that ‘at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains’; yet there is more wisdom in Coleridge’s admonition that ‘In wonder all philosophy began, in wonder it ends… but [while] the first is the offspring of ignorance, the last is the parent of adoration.’” There is wonder about the passing of God’s servant, but this leads us to adoration of the creator who gifted us with this wonderful servant, full of wisdom, so simple yet profound and will be greatly missed.

The one consolation we all should have is the fact that by some happenstance Msgr. Lafon died in the Year of St Joseph and is laid to rest on a Wednesday traditionally in honor of St Joseph. The fact that he is buried on the day on which we begin the novena in preparation for the Solemnity of St Joseph, husband of Mary, on March 19th, is a happy coincidence. Msgr. Lafon had a great devotion to St Joseph. The Catholic Men’s Association (CMA) of the Cameroon Catholic Community of the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. is the fruit of the labors of Msgr. Lafon. St Joseph has been invoked as the patron of a good death. In the words of St Peter Julian Eymard, “St. Joseph is the patron and protector of a happy death. Those who pray to him are certain to die in good dispositions. He is the model of those who wish to die in the Lord.” This explains the eyewitness account of the final hour of Msgr. Lafon: He asked to celebrate the sacrament of penance which he did for about an hour. Thereafter he asked his brother, classmate, and friend whom he fondly called Willy Neba to anoint him. After the rite was performed, he said his body is no longer here and that he wants to meet his God. He said they should raise his leg which was down and heavy up to the bed. Then he just coughed lightly like a little baby who had choked and slept quietly. That was it: “Mission termine!”

May the angels and saints bring him to the home of his father. May St Joseph intercede for his eternal repose and may the sweat, tears and joy of Msgr, Lafon be sown for an eternal harvest.

Let’s Celebrate African Women! By Lambert Mbom

March is often celebrated as Women’s History Month. March 8th is International Women’s day and I decided to celebrate this month by writing profiles of 31 African immigrant women across different disciplines whom I could showcase to my daughters as role models. I called a friend to brainstorm on this and being a political junkie, he immediately referenced Kamala Harris. Bingo! Of course! Yet I thought that would be too easy. I moved on and posed the same question to two men whom I respect a lot. The first immediately wrote back recommending his wife, an electrical engineer and then recommended another Zimbabwean woman with a Ph.D. in Real Estate. The second immediately talked about his mother before recommending Ida B Wells. Then I realized that I needed to clarify the scope of this work. I indicated that for this work to have any journalistic mileage, whatever that means, it must presuppose that wives, mothers, aunts, and sisters are the norm for men to celebrate.

And while one can make the case that Valentine’s day just rolled by, and Mothers’ day is on its way, there is something worth highlighting in the fact that these men without any hesitation chose to shine the light on their wife and their mother. In the face of the skyrocketing divorce rates among African immigrants, it is heartwarming that some African men celebrate their wives not just in the proverbial “behind every successful man is a woman” but rather in their own right and on their own merit. This is especially relevant given the many stories in the US of some African men killing their wives both physically and figuratively. During this month of March then let us celebrate the tenacity and tenderness of wives of African men.

While Mother’s Day is still on its way, it definitely is the case that one day could never be enough to celebrate motherhood. Men generally tend to bond better with their mothers just as women bond better with fathers. One set of mothers worth celebrating are grandmothers especially those abroad who are helping many African immigrant families nurse and nurture their children. These grandmothers who should be enjoying the fruits of their labors generously give of their time and energy to provide a service often taken for granted but quite instrumental and invaluable. After raising many of us, our mothers have taken up the role of raising up our own kids while we chase the almighty dollar/Euro. Let us not take their generosity for granted! We cannot compensate them adequately for our mortgaged responsibilities they have assumed.

I remember the joy of spending holidays at Njinikom with my maternal grandparents and often slept on the same bed with Mami Martha Musi, accompanying her in the heart of the rainy season on the long treks to her many farms and having to climb hills with a basket of corn on my head. Experiencing the vicissitudes of life in the village with all its pristine opulence enveloped with the extravagant love of grandparents away from the watchful eyes of parents with their laundry list of do’s and don’ts proved to be a luxury worth its weight in gold.

Women’s history month is a time for celebrating the often-unnoticed and taken-for-granted yet salutary contributions of women to society. We live a in a male dominant world even though women are numerically more. If charity begins at home, we must celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day by celebrating the women of our lives: our wives, our mothers, our aunts and our sisters. When our daughters and nieces find us celebrating the women in our lives, they would be inspired, encouraged, and motivated. Why we celebrate and how we celebrate are equally important. It is about respect! It is about equality! It is about leveling the playing field. Words are important for they are the vehicles of our thoughts! And yet, they can be deceptive as people say one thing when they mean another and in fact mean the opposite of what they say. Gifts are great but these too could be manipulative.

One way of celebrating women is by looking inwards. What action of mine or behavior of mine wittingly or unwittingly perpetuates disrespect of women and fuels gender based bias. What one thing can I work on that would improve the way I treat women. Shouting from rooftops about women’s rights, women equality or women eh is great but just a start. Change must begin with each one of us. Women’s day is about creating space for women to thrive as women.

Adieu Fr Joseph Ngah Mbiydzenyuy: Someone Beautiful for God!

Last Saturday or thereabouts, my friend Jude Ozughen and I reminisced of encounters with Fr Joseph Ngah. He recounted for the umpteenth time a story he has often told of the impact of priests in his life. Growing up in Ndop, at the time Fr Joseph Ngah served there, their mum used Fr Joe to discipline them. Every time they did something wrong, after the initial physical punishment of having to get to the top of Mount Ngoketungia to fetch some particular wood found only there, they had to write an apology and deliver to Fr Joseph and their mother will take it from him after morning mass. Of course, you did not want to meet the priest that often at least not under those circumstances. He asked me to try to get Fr’s Joe’s number so he could be in touch and thank him for the role he played in shaping his life. I dragged on only to learn about his shocking passing three days later.

How can “Pere Joe” as some of us called him exit so unceremoniously? The death of any priest often evokes deep emotions of sadness within the community of course because he is a man of the people and for people or is supposed to be. Yes, priests are automatically associated with virtue and holiness and so it begs the question why a tribute like this is warranted. Fr Joseph Ngah Mbiydzenyuy served as a priest of the archdiocese of Bamenda for 38 years and 10 months. He was a normal “Joe” and in this normalcy touched many lives like mine. Every time one attempts to capture the life of such a larger-than-life person as Pere Joe, a great injustice is done for words pale in expression of the truth of this magnanimous creature.

It is in the very obvious things of life that I find true key to Fr Joseph’s legacy. Fr Joe had a penchant for cleanliness. As obvious as this might seem given that most priests have people taking care of their laundry needs, one could not fail to notice Fr Joe’s peculiarity and particularity of being neat, trim, and clean. While it sounds counterintuitive given the peculiarity of the local church, he carefully straddled the limits of ostentatiousness call it flamboyancy and being well kempt and polished. He remained true to that transcendental property of being – beauty. One could best describe him as someone beautiful for God to paraphrase Malcolm Muggeridge’s characterization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. It is a beauty radiating the divine and bringing home the fact that cleanliness is next to Godliness.

His greatest legacy in the archdiocese of Bamenda is in his transformation of Bopson a lay private school in the heart of Nkwen with a notoriety for brigands to St. Paul’s Bilingual Comprehensive College. The purchase by the archdiocese of Bamenda did not automatically translate to its Catholicity. It took the “grit, gut and gumption” of Fr Joseph for the Pauline-like conversion to take place. It suffices for anyone to read the tributes on social media from the alumni of this college to ascertain the quality of his work. His name is forever etched in the annals of this school not just for being its pioneer principal but above all for the many lives he inspired and built during his time there. He understood the psychology of young people and bonded well with them shepherding them through perilous paths like Joseph “with the heart of a father.” He was greatly admired by both teachers and students for his pragmatism and down to earth character. You could walk into St Paul and not tell he was in charge except for the immaculate white soutane he donned. Pere Joe vindicated the Bishops’ decision to have priests serving as principals of catholic schools.

Obviously, there is a camaraderie and conviviality that Pere Joe exuded that you could not miss. His intentionality and intensity with relationships is something which will be greatly missed. His uncanny ability to empathize, sympathize and fraternize endeared him to many. You could not miss his signature smile and laughter which always lit up wherever he went to. He knew how to laugh and make you laugh too.

Personally, the one treasure, Pere Joe left me is friendship. In the summer of 1982, Fr Clement Pishangu served in St Theresia’s parish in Small Mankon where we lived. He inspired me to seek to be a priest. He journeyed with me throughout the seminary and even beyond when that journey ended prematurely. While in the seminary, I claimed All Saints parish, Bayelle as my local parish even though my family lived in Buea at the time. So. for seven years of that journey, I had the guidance of Pere Joe, a classmate to Fr Clement. You could not be around Pere Joe and not want to be a priest. He enjoyed his vocation and served selflessly. And by some coincidence, I spent my pastoral year in St Gabriel’s parish, Bafmeng under the tutelage of Fr Peter Amah of blessed memory. They were the three ordained for the archdiocese of Bamenda on April 6th, 1983. Fr Clement planted the seed of what I perceived as a vocation to the priesthood and watered it with Fr Peter Amah and Pere Joe and I did the stonewalling. I am eternally indebted to these priests, all classmates who each in their own way helped shape me. Pere Joe was a true “big brother” who provided the example and the frequent admonition.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that Fr Joseph Mbiydzenyuy was a great preacher. He taught the word and preached the word with distinction.  Never a boring moment with him and you know a great preacher when years after you can recount some of his sermons. One that stayed with me was his explanation of the sacrament of reconciliation. He availed of the common experience of being badly in need of a toilet especially if you had a running stomach and got to one and discovered it was broken and dirty. You often would dump before complaining about the state of the receptacle. This impressed upon me the need to go for confession even when the vessel God had chosen to use was in one’s estimation a not too worthy one. It is the characterization of Henry Nouwen’s the wounded healer that he evoked to help us focus on our need for confession.

For Father Joseph Mbiydzenyuy to have died in the year of St Joseph is a happy coincidence given St Joseph is the patron of a happy death. To him we commend our father, Pere Joe as we tearfully bid him farewell and entreat the angels to bring him to God’s kingdom. Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord and Let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.

St. Joseph: Artisan of Peace.

Every year, the Catholic Church celebrates the World Day of Peace on January 1. In his message for the celebration of 2021, the 54th World Day of Peace, Pope Francis invites Christians “to cultivate a culture of care as a path to peace.” The Holy Father proposes the culture of care as the antidote to the “culture of indifference, waste and confrontation so prevalent in our time.” The year 2020 has taught us how important it is to care for one another and for creation in our efforts to build a more fraternal society.

Anyone familiar with the teaching of Pope Francis will recognize this theme of the war against the culture of indifference as central to his ministry. He frequently talks about “the globalization of indifference.” Francis proposes an alternative with his famous “culture of encounter” and to which he seems to be adding the “culture of care.” When we encounter people, we should care for and about them. The Pope seems to draw a link between indifference and conflict. Indifference breeds, feeds, and leads to conflict.

The prophet Isaiah refers to the messiah as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). This is confirmed at his birth which news the shepherds received with great joy and proclaimed the eternal truth: Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of goodwill.” The Church also honors Mary as the Queen of Peace. Given the relationship between Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, one wonders whether Joseph could be referred in any loose sense as the King of Peace? It would seem within the context of the Kingship of Christ, this might be a stretch. And so, to continue with Pope Francis’ postulation of a father’s heart, St. Joseph could be more appropriately described as a father of peace or more appropriately, a peaceful father.

Against the backdrop of Pope Francis’ call for a culture of care, St. Joseph provides a great example. He was not an absentee husband and father. The home is supposed to be the most peaceful place one can imagine. The home is supposed to be a sanctuary. Our homes are temples not because of their gorgeous designs and exquisite beauty but because of the quality of the people with whom we share that space. Home is sacred space shared with intimate persons. Unfortunately, many homes have been transformed to boxing rings and increasingly broken homes and broken families are becoming the norm. This is partly because of indifference.

The affinity between home and hearth(fireplace) is not just accidental but also intrinsic. Home is where we find light, warmth and love. When we turn it to a heathen it is partly because it has lost its warmth. Cold and indifference impede the heat from the hearth.

Indifference is born of a culture that does not care and that is not thoughtful. It is a culture that escapes and avoids the calculus of how one’s actions or inactions affect/impact the other. It is important to note that in relationships it is not enough to be right. The bible presents us with examples of indifference. Abel’s question: Am I my brother’s keeper? Readily comes to mind.

One of Pope Francis’ passage that brings home the issue of indifference is that of the parable of the Good Samaritan. In his seminal work on relationships, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis writes:

Jesus tells the story of a man assaulted by thieves and lying injured on the wayside. Several persons passed him by, but failed to stop. These were people holding important social positions, yet lacking in real concern for the common good. They would not waste a couple of minutes caring for the injured man, or even in calling for help. Only one person stopped, approached the man and cared for him personally, even spending his own money to provide for his needs. He also gave him something that in our frenetic world we cling to tightly: he gave him his time. Certainly, he had his own plans for that day, his own needs, commitments and desires. Yet he was able to put all that aside when confronted with someone in need. Without even knowing the injured man, he saw him as deserving of his time and attention. Which of these persons do you identify with?

Life presents daily opportunities for us to encounter people and provide care. It is about paying attention to the presence of the others around us and attending to their needs. And for this we can look to the example of St. Joseph.

In Matthew’s gospel we find how St Joseph enunciates the culture of care when he found out that Mary was pregnant. The evangelist tells us that St. Joseph did not want to bring her to shame and decided to divorce her quietly. (Matt. 1:19). Joseph cared more about Mary’s good name and did not want to bring her any shame. He was not indifferent to Mary’s feelings and reputation.

As a father, St Joseph was not indifferent to his son and we find an instance of this with the story of the Journey to Jerusalem where Christ went missing and Joseph and Mary only found out after traveling back to Galilee. (Luke 2:39-45) We are told not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. Christ brought glory to Joseph but also upset the life and agenda of Joseph. Soon after the birth of Christ, St. Joseph had to escape to Egypt for the safety and security of Christ.

St. Joseph invites us to be artisans of peace by being attentive to the needs of our brothers and sisters. How attentive are husbands to the needs and cries of their wives? Joseph used the reason of the heart to attend to Mary’s needs.

How about children? How attentive are parents to the needs of their children? How much time do parents spend with their children? Are parents not being indifferent to their children when they put them on autopilot and spend hours at work moving from one job to the other and end up not recognizing who these children have turned out to be?

Based on our different circumstances in life, lets examine ourselves and see how indifferent we are to those around us. With the father’s heart like St. Joseph’s let us seek to be attentive. There is a tendency to limit care to gifts. We buy gifts for others as a sign of love but we are inattentive to the little details of their lives that make the difference. There is no greater and better gift than presence.

January 2021: “With a Father’s heart!”

It is with the words “With a father’s heart” that Pope Francis opens his Apostolic letter celebrating the anniversary of the proclamation of St Joseph, as Patron of the Universal Church. The pope seems to be answering a question which he does not tell us. His answer begs the question of why he chooses this description of a heart which answer we get in the concluding paragraph of the letter’s introduction. “For as Jesus says, out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. (Matthew 12:14).” Yet there is a great paradox, that throughout the gospels, Joseph is silent and gradually fizzles out from the scene. He seems to embrace the spirituality of John the Baptist: Christ must increase while I decrease. (Jn.3:30-35) The silence of Joseph speaks volumes and ascertains the expression that actions speak louder than words.

Anecdotally men have been said to love with their heads and women to love with their hearts. And in popular marriage parlance, the man is said to be the head and the woman is the heart of the family. Hence, when Pope Francis refers to Joseph as having a father’s heart, there is a certain paradox worth pausing to consider.  

One cannot lose sight of the fact that the Pope issued this letter on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception when the Church celebrates the fact that Mary was born without original sin. This brings to bold relief the fact that Joseph is no stranger to our human experience. But even more so, is the fact that Joseph is not unaffected by his union with Mary. She who is the handmaid of the Lord graces Joseph’s life too. Wherever we find Mary, Joseph is also present. To love Mary, is to love not just her Son but also and of course her husband. Therefore, when we invoke the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we should also and always analogously albeit, consider the heart of Joseph.

When the evangelist Luke recounts that Mary treasured these things and stored them in her heart (Lk. 2:19), the same could also be said of Joseph. This narrative is within the nativity scene which begins with Joseph bringing his wife Mary to be counted for the census that had been decreed. Joseph’s heart is rich and full of similar experiences. That heart is full and is overflowing.

No doubt Pope Francis describes Joseph’s heart from different vantage points. It is the fatherhood of Joseph that provides the launchpad from where he soars to the heavens. The word “father” is used at least 34 times throughout the text and indicates quite frankly where Pope Francis wants to lay emphasis namely fatherhood.

“Children today often seem orphans, lacking fathers,” writes Pope Francis highlighting what has become known as the crisis of fatherhood. “Fathers are not born but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world.”

It is as though the Pope is saying it is not enough to be called father but beyond this what kind of father are you. What kind of a heart do you have? To Pope Francis, St Joseph is the father par excellence as evident in the seven-fold adjectival descriptions he makes of St Joseph namely, “a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an obedient father, an accepting father, a creatively courageous father and a father in the shadows.” These are qualities that flow from the heart of Joseph whom the Pope proposes for imitation. Within the context of the Year of St. Joseph, we have randomly selected each of these for a month-long meditation around which we will design weekly reflections.

This project is in alignment with the Pope’s goal for us to “increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal.”

Like Christ, St Joseph even in his silence is inviting us to learn from him for his gentle and lowly in heart. And Matthew presents the challenge in a much more forthcoming way when he notes that: But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart and they defile for the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. (Mtt.15:18-19). To cultivate a father’s heart, we are exhorted to turn to St Joseph’s heart.

During this month of January, let us seek out the heart of Joseph, a great treasury of love overflowing with blessings and grace. Just as Christ is an adopted son of Joseph, so too are we followers of Christ, adopted children of Joseph. Are you a father? What kind of heart do you have? Are you missing a father? Have you been abused by a father? Turn to the father of all fathers! Are you an absentee father? Seek the heart of Joseph to intercede for you.  

Celebrating 2021 with St Joseph: Patron of the Universal Church. Lambert Mbom

Last December 8th, Pope Francis declared the year in honor of St Joseph in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Pope Pius IX’s dedication of the universal Church to the patronage of St Joseph. Pope Francis draws our attention to the person of St Joseph often a forgotten figure. He invites us to the school of St Joseph and lays out the syllabus for developing the spirituality of St Joseph.

“Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble,” wrote Pope Francis in the apostolic letter, Patris Corde. “St Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”

As a member of the Catholic Men’s Association (CMA), I found it incumbent to drill further into the Pope’s invitation and to propose a guide for the year. Pope Francis suggests seven themes along which to celebrate the life of St Joseph and I have added five more to make twelve – one for each month. For fifty weeks of the year, I have come up with a weekly meditation to provide “a lamp to our feet and a guide to our path” (Psalm 119:105) (You can preorder your copy)

While these meditations are weekly and could be used on any day of the week, they are especially relevant on Wednesdays of every week for as Pope Francis himself writes: “Special prayers are offered to him each Wednesday and especially during the month of March, which is traditionally dedicated to him.”

One of the recommended activities for the Year of St Joseph is for Catholics to consecrate themselves to St Joseph. Fr Donald Calloway, MIC, an American priest has published one of the best and authoritative books on all things St Joseph. It is entitled “Consecration to St Joseph: The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father.”

“Now is the time to consecrate yourself to St. Joseph!” This consecration follows the popular 33 days preparation for consecration to Mary and is patterned to coincide with major events in St Joseph’s life. Fr Calloway’s proposed schedule is as follows:

Consecration Chart

START OF THEFEAST DAYCONSECRATION
33 DAYS DAY
   
December 22Feast of the Holy SpousesJanuary 23
 
January 1Presentation of the LordFebruary 2
   
February 15*Solemnity of St. JosephMarch 19
   
March 30St. Joseph the WorkerMay 1
   
April 11Our Lady of FatimaMay 13
   
July 16Our Lady of KnockAugust 17
   
September 30All SaintsNovember 1
   
November 8Our Lady of LoretoDecember 10
   
November**Holy FamilyDecember

THE ROLE OF INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE IN REVIVING CAMEROON’S ECONOMY By Rev. Wilfred Emeh*

June 3, 2020

 

Cameroon's Minister of Finance Louis Paul Motaze
Cameroon’s Minister of Finance Louis Paul Motaze

Overview

Since late 2016, the Republic of Cameroon has been going through a devastating armed conflict that has worsened what was already a fledgling economy.  Historically, this civil strife can be traced to constitutional crisis in the governance process of the entire nation (Konings & Nyamnjoh1997). The blatant disregard for the culture, traditions and customs of the Anglophones were fundamental threats to the rule of law that heightened tensions leading to the current socio-political impasse.  A Transparency International report identified Cameroon’s judiciary system as the most corrupt in Africa. In the larger study of seven countries within the continent, one out of five persons interviewed admitted they had offered gifts to judges or related judicial matters. In Cameroon 80% of those interviewed perceived the judicial system is rather very corrupt (Koschel,2007).

Moreover, the dictatorship style of leadership and the unchecked power of the executive branch of government that undermines major cooperation and inclusion of the various regions have been counterproductive economically. According to Douglas North, social and legal norms and rules are foundations for the basis of institutions that underlie economic activities (North,1990).

This memo seeks to examine how institutional change can revive Cameroon’s economy. Institutional economics is defined as a study in economic history which focuses on the costs of human coordination and cooperation through time, which is essential in bringing about change in the society (North,1990). We will achieve this objective by looking at some principles of governance that can positively influence economic activities for growth and development. Among other things, this memo will consider the rule of law and economic growth, abuse of power, and social cohesion as essential elements in economic activities.

What is at stake?

In consideration of the fact that effective institutions promote economic growth by reducing transaction costs of operating in the economy, whereas ineffective institutions dis-incentivize market participants and lead to economic decline (North, 1990), how can Cameroon revive its institutions in order to foster economic growth?

Evaluation of Findings and Conclusions

 The rule of law is essential for the regulation of markets, property rights, checks and balances of the executive branch of government, all of which are foundational to economic growth. In this regard, North indicates that formal constraints such as laws and a constitution are necessary in the harmonious functioning of every institution. In addition to these formal constraints, culture and ideologies make up informal constraints of the institutions. The absence of the rule of law often leads to anarchy and this is true of most countries that are going through civil wars. It has been established that civil war tends to reduce growth by around 2.3% per year; with civil wars (in his dataset) averaging seven years in duration, the typical war leaves a country 15% poorer than it otherwise would have been (Collier, 2005).

Collier’s findings further buttress the position that the ongoing civil war in Cameroon has led the nation to financially disastrous condition.  In fact, “many countries in Africa without any system of good governance in place show an association between conflicts and poor law enforcement in protecting the natural resource base and in observing human rights” (as cited in Yiew et al., 2016. Pg. 3744).

According to a UN report, corruption, illicit trade and money laundering contribute to State weakness, impede economic growth and undermine democracy. These activities eventually create a permissive environment for civil conflict.” (UN Report,2004).

The absence of the rule of law has far reaching effects on the efficiency and effectiveness of institutions. Lessig (2013) explains that “institutional corruption is manifest when there is a systemic and strategic influence that undermines the institution’s effectiveness by weakening its ability to achieve its purpose, including to the extent relevant to its purpose, weakening either the public’s trust in that institution or the institution’s inherent trustworthiness.”(Lessig, 2013 p. 553).

Fr Wilfred Emeh is Doctoral Student in Public Administration at West Chester University, PA
Fr Wilfred Emeh is a Doctoral Student in Public Administration at West Chester University, PA

The downward slope regarding the rule of law is closely related to abuse of power.  Prior to the ongoing conflict in Anglophone Cameroon, even to this day, the executive branch has abused power with impunity. Throughout our nation’s history, presidents have targeted their political opponents as we see it unfold in the ongoing conflict (Tumi, 2006). This is detrimental to the nation’s economy because abuse of power is a guaranteed source of dissension and frustration; some of the ruling elites must be aware of impending political instability from a culmination of these negative feelings (North, 1990).

Moreover, political scientists and legal scholars attest that institutional checks on executive discretion, including through independent judiciaries, are integral to the very concept of the rule of law. Such checks and balances are economically important because of the classic time-inconsistency problem (Kydland & Prescott, 1977). In the same vein, Haggard & Tiede maintain that “the rule of law, property rights, and contract enforcement cannot be credible unless there are effective limits on executive discretion” (Haggard & Tiede, 2011. p.674).

In consideration of the heavy toll of corruption in Cameroon, evident not only in the judiciary, but in the widespread of bribery in contracts, taxation of imports, and the embezzlement of state funds, the economy cannot thrive because: “A predatory government acting on its self-interest is prone to squander the wealth of the country and exploit the business community through unjust taxes and misappropriation of resources and profits. In the long run, these self-preservation strategies can eventually lead the ruling dynasty to its destruction.” (North, 1997, p. 154). The World Governance Indicators, specifically the indicator on control of corruption, placed Cameroon in the lowest 10 percentile, while also ranking it low (25 percentile or lower) for the remaining indicators (Broadman & Recanatini, 2001).

On the other hand, social cohesion and the prevalence of justice provide a favorable environment for businesses and investors. The inevitable result is security of life and property which in turn encourages integrity, hard work, entrepreneurship and technological progress, while its absence defeats economic motivation. In line with institutional economics, transaction costs of doing business escalates with the prevalence of injustices. And, in the end, more complex contracts and the alliance between business and politics become the norm, causing the economy to suffer (Khalid, 2015). Khalid further argues that the “crowding out” of investments is bound to emerge and tax collections will decline as enterprises reassess their risks and returns from operating in that economy (Khalid, 2015).

In reality, social cohesion does not only attract investors, but it equally provides a flourishing socio-political environment that boosts both investors’ and consumers’ confidence. It is within such environments that institutions and markets thrive. As Khalid (2015) points out, social cohesion and institutional efficiency consistently have an equal and important effect as does resources endowment in bringing about economic development and higher civilization.

Recommendations

In order to restore some credibility to institutions, there is urgent need to revisit the training of administrators and legal experts. It is well known that admissions into the National School of Administration and Magistracy (ENAM) is fraught with political machinations, and for this reason, the performance of the graduates who run most of our institutions is mediocre.  In this regard, Lasswell & McDougal (1943) insist on the vital role of training those who provide legal service in a democratic society because of the enormous influence on attitudes toward the law.

Transparency and accountability are foundational to economic activities. How can a nation regain the trust and confidence of its people who are distraught due to a lack of transparency and accountability? For years Cameroonians have been constantly disgruntled with parliamentarians and other community representatives who singlehandedly execute projects after having embezzled substantial sums of money. This lack of accountability and transparency hampers cooperation and coordination, both of which are essential in the chain of production and the wellbeing of all.

In conclusion, having been endowed with rich human and natural resources like other African countries, such as Rwanda, that have walked down the path of civil war, Cameroon has a potential for an economic future. However, our country cannot realize its full potential if the ruling government does not chart a new path marked by patriotism, the rule of law, and the common good. Such an aspiration can only succeed to the extent that government officials learn from history and rise beyond the inordinate desire for personal aggrandizement. It is important, in this regard, for all branches of government to be in sync with unwavering determination to implement changes that are most needed to restore the ethics and nobility of our nation’s institutions.  There is no better way than relying on the tested and proved findings that have been clearly outlined in this memo.

References

Broadman, H. G., & Recanatini, F. (2001). Seeds of corruption–Do market institutions matter? MOST: Economic Policy in Transitional Economies11(4), 359-392.

Collier, P. (2005). The Collier-Hoeffler model of civil war onset and the case study project research design. Understanding civil war: Evidence and analysis1, 1-33.

Haggard, S., & Tiede, L. (2011). The rule of law and economic growth: where are we? World development39(5), 673-685.

Khalid, H. (2015). The role of institutions in driving economic change: Comparing the thoughts of Ibn Khaldūn and Douglass C. North. Intellectual Discourse23(2).

Koschel, D. (2007). Transparency International Report, 2007. Retrieved from (https://www.transparency.org/news/pressrelease/20071002_judicial_corruption_fuels_impunity_corrodes_rule_of_law.

Kydland, F. E., & Prescott, E. C. (1977). Rules rather than discretion: The inconsistency of optimal plans. Journal of political economy85(3), 473-491.

Konings, P., & Nyamnjoh, F. B. (1997). The anglophone problem in Cameroon. The Journal of Modern African Studies35(2), 207-229.

Lasswell, H. D., & McDougal, M. S. (1943). Legal education and public policy: Professional training in the public interest. The Yale Law Journal52(2), 203-295.

Lessig, L. (2013). “Institutional corruption” defined. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics41(3), 553-555.

Tumi, W. (2006). The Political Regimes of Ahmadou Ahidjo, and Paul Biya, and Christian Tumi, Priest. MACACOS, Douala.

United Nations, A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility: Report of the Secretary General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and Change, UN Doc A/59/565 (1 December 2004), available at http://www.un.org/secureworld.

Yiew, H., Habibullah, S., Law, H., & Azman-Saini, W. (2016). Does bad governance cause armed conflict? International Journal of Applied Business and Economic Research, 14(6), 3741-3755.

*Fr Wilfred Emeh is Doctoral Student in Public Administration at West Chester University, PA

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.

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.

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