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“Alternative Facts” of Cameroon Journal on MoRISC. By Lambert Mbom

The publisher of Cameroon Journal, Christopher Anu Fobeneh, has done it again. Out of his hat, he has pulled more dubious claims. Reeling from being fired from the Communications Sub-committee, he is doubling down on his crusade against the Movement for the Restoration of the Independence of Southern Cameroons (MoRISC) peppering this with a collection of half-truths, outright lies, fake news and shenanigans. Probably more aware than anyone else about the lies, he proclaims: “We are about providing all the FACTS to all THE SIDES of every story.” Gee me a break!

In an earlier posting on my blog, www.lambomsvuvuzela.com, I debunked Christopher Anu Fobeneh’s reportage that misinformed the so called Editorial of his journal, as an affront to the ethos of journalism. While everyone welcomes the veritable “watchdog” character and “gatekeeper” role wont of journalism, Cameroon Journal’s pretentious attempt at it, is disgraceful and quite off the mark with respect to MoRISC. So far off the truth is everything Christopher Anu Fobeneh publishes that it would be appropriate to preface every article with the warning: “and now lies from the Cameroon Journal…”.

In its new batch of rumblings against MoRISC, Fobeneh harps on the relationship between the Advisory Council and MoRISC. First of all, let us be clear: no Advisory Council was nominated like Fobeneh claims. This “drive-by” reporting can only yield the kind of calumny, Chris has indulged in. It would be helpful to get the facts right and report without bias: When the general Assembly deadlocked over how to proceed during the June 21st confab, MoRISC’s Steering Committee invited leaders of the different groups present in the hall to come together and concert. This group was made up of the Chair of SCNC NA – Elvis Kometa, Chairperson of SCYL – Dr. Ebenezar Akwanga, Chair of the Ambazonia Liberation Movement – Edwin Ngang, representative of the Confederation of British Southern Cameroonians NA – Jonathan Awasom, representative of South East delegation from Dallas, whose name I cannot recall, Valentine Gana – representative of the Midwest, Sebastien Epah – representative of South West Elite Association (SWELA), Fako Washington DC President: Nathaniel Mosaso and a representative of Houston Delegation whose name I cannot recall. Even Theodore Ngomba, who took the roll call of those present, identified himself as representing his lone self, as an independent. Note that the draft Constitution which was not debated and, therefore, not adopted set out this group to bring together only the leaders of liberation movements. The General Assembly resolved to nominate Boh Herbert as Spokesperson for MoRISC and cleared the leaders of the liberation movements, who were discussing the setting up of the Advisory Council, to work with the MoRISC Steering Committee ahead of the February 11th 2017 conference. These were the two resolutions which were presented to the general assembly and voted by unanimous acclamation. 

If that group arrogated to itself the task of reviewing the draft constitution, they did not inform the noble assembly gathered. The cry on the floor was that many people had not had the opportunity to read the draft constitution and needed more time. This is why those present at that meeting agreed to discuss and adopt the draft constitution at the Feb. 11 conference. Every participant was encouraged to read the draft and send in proposed amendments to the legal team ahead of the meeting in Hagerstown. 

Also uninformed, dishonest and laughable is Fobeneh’s claim that an advisory council was charged to take over management of MoRISC. Does that not fall flat in the face of the council’s own nomenclature: Whom will they be advising then? Nevertheless, that did not happen and even at face value defies any rationale standard. That notwithstanding this can only be rated as “pants-on-fire” in the “Truth-o-meter” to borrow from Politifact’s classification.

I find it ludicrous to imagine that MoRISC organized a conference and mortgaged the responsibilities of taking the meetings’ proceedings to an advisory body. If that had truly happened you would have been crying foul and accusing MoRISC of dereliction of duties. Hearken to your earlier post!

The other resolution that came up from the General Assembly called for the issuance of a declaration at the end of the conference. This suggestion was made on the floor while the conference was in session. Nobody needed to have been consulted thereafter, except, of course, the General Assembly which reconvened during the night session, adopted and disseminated the declaration under the title Washington Declaration. 

MoRISC has a vibrant, dynamic and competent communications team into which Fobeneh was briefly coopted before being fired. It is a shameful lie to claim, as he does, that he was never part of any committee while at the same time claiming that he was one of the founders of MoRISC. Fobeneh participated in conference calls, seating as a member of the same committee he claims he never served on. When you proposed to reach out to Prof. Kofele Kale to be the keynote speaker at the January 21st conference, on what basis were you offering to do that? Is it a matter of selective amnesia? One would forgive that but clearly there are desperate attempts at sabotaging MoRISC.

This is amply borne out in your critique of MoRISC as a “personality cult” even though what you meant to say is that MoRISC is a North Western cult. Spewing this kind of garbage is eloquent testimony of your sworn commitment to kill MoRISC even though hiding behind the cloak of serving as a watchdog. Your acrimonious charge is alarming on three levels. First, the clumsy grammatical construction of that statement evident in your odd mixture of Kom, (a tribe), Ndop and Nkambe (names of towns in the North West Region) and Donga Mantung axis (a division of the NWR) speaks volumes. The lack of parallelism in that sentence structure exacerbates the issue.

Secondly, it is factually incorrect for you to make such a claim. Please be informed that there are many persons from the South West region in MoRISC’s steering committee. How comes you failed to notice that of all the leaders who came out to speak on the floor, only one cultural group leader was present and thank God from Fako. Let me paraphrase the words of Mavis Staples and say “In MoRISC, there is no South West or North West but one Southern Cameroons, one Ambazonia.”

Thirdly, if anyone doubts where your allegiance is, this paragraph clears this out. You are drawing exactly from the playbook of La Republique that has played this tribal, ethnic and regional card for too long. They have used this to divide and rule us. They have played us against each other and successfully held us in bondage and servitude with this philosophy. We have grown accustomed to see things in shades of North West and South West. This is unfortunate. While I regret that you could play this card, I understand why. When you engage in desperate acts of smearing, you end up with such puerile philosophies that feed xenophobia. And you claim to be reporting facts? No, Sir! It passes the smell test of hate speech. This stinks!

One understands you have a personal axe to grind with a distinguished colleague, Herbert Boh! He called you out for propagating violence which is anathema to the mission and goal of MoRISC. Are you trying to get back at him? Good luck and try harder!

Lastly, your reference to MoRISC re-inventing the wheels is shallow and pretentious. Isn’t it outlandish for you to make such claims? It betrays the impression that you get a status report about MoRISC and its contacts with the different leaders at home. There is a lot happening in the background of which you are clueless. Tread carefully, my friend. MoRISC remains highly indebted to the giants who have blazed the trail of the liberation struggle. It recognized them and will continue to build with them. I provided you a list of those giants who are present here in the United States with whom MoRISC made contact. One of MoRISC’s subcommittee is Strategy and Policy which includes some of the persons you referenced and as MoRISC gathers steam and momentum, and becomes functional, more visibility would be afforded this committee.

MoRISC is also not oblivious of the fact that to continue doing the same thing and expect different results is a recipe for madness. This struggle is not at its initial stages and outreach is not something to be accomplished in a day. Consensus building takes time and hard work. Your penchant for hackneyed strategies that have not panned out is just a straw man. Imagine the role social media is playing to further the cause. Is the consortium not new? Is it not serving a purpose? It is counterintuitive to limit engagement of the struggle to the past. Riding on the coattails of the current momentum, there are many who have come from the fringes and have a right to chart a new way. This is not a zero-sum game of “Either…Or” but rather “Both…And.”

We live in the age of “alternative facts” wherein opinions are glorified and facts relegated to the background in pursuit of an agenda. Like I recommended in my last rebuttal, Christ encourages us to let the weed and the wheat grow together. At harvest time, they shall be known by their fruits. Why is Fobeneh fiddling while Southern Cameroons burns?

ANU’s Recriminations against MoRISC: A Rejoinder. By Lambert Mbom.

Dear Mr. Anu:

Thanks for dedicating the Editorial of Feb. 2nd, 2017 on your coveted online platform, Cameroon  Journal, to denigrate, deride and lambast the Movement for the Restoration of the Independence of Southern Cameroons, aka MoRISC. As one who claims “to have pioneered the initiative that led to the birth of MoRISC,” one would have expected these views to have been expressed in some shape or form while you enjoyed membership with MoRISC but helas. I would grant you the privilege that the scales suddenly fell off your eyes when you were given six months’ leave twice every year from MoRISC Communications Team.

I have struggled to decipher the rationale for your missive but find it hard to put aside the fact that this smells of the sour grapes phenomenon. One would have expected you to preface your remarks with the fact that “You were thrown out of MoRISC Communication subcommittee for proclaiming violence, antithetical to the ethos and philosophy of the movement.” That alone would have given your ranting some credibility.

Your opening salvo, “we have listened to the arguments for and against the group…” sets you up on a high horse as an arbiter and one cannot but wonder whether given the recent brush you had with the group, you could be impartial.

Against that backdrop, I have also toyed with applying the biblical parable to MoRISC of the man who sowed good seeds but while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weed among the wheat. Matthew 13:25 And this “weed” some are already smoking and trying to choke the wheat. Just remember that after the weed dissipates, you will need the wheat! In that parable, Christ asks that the weed be allowed to grow alongside the wheat until harvest time.

The foregoing notwithstanding, I have taken the liberty in my personal name to respond to your charges against MoRISC in the true spirit that brothers fight with elbows and not with fists.

By way of general comments, notice that in your opening paragraph, you set up any initiative for the liberation struggle on an impossible mission when you opine that – “the mission and modus operandi be made for the purpose of unanimity and acceptability among a majority of Southern Cameroonians” Think about it again! No one expects unanimity. We can have unity without unanimity. Unity is not the absence of conflict. In fact, when conflict is handled well, it leads to unity. And by the way, the different groups mushrooming on the Southern Cameroons agenda do not seek unanimity and a majority of Southern Cameroonians.

It is overly overzealous to imagine and expect that unity would have been achieved between November 2016 and now. MoRISC seeks to forge a long lasting unity between the different groups while creating space for those who do not want to be affiliated to the different groups and yet want to be a part of the liberation struggle.

All I offer in response are the words of the revered Englishman Henry Cardinal Newman who said: “Nothing would be done at all, if a man waited till he could do it so well, that no one could find fault with it.” Desperate times call for desperate measures. The “tour de force” that MoRISC is, is clearly evident in the virulent attacks it has engendered. I just hope you were not insinuating that those opposed to the budding MoRISC are in the majority and even if they were just be reminded that the problem we are decrying in our country borders on the fallacy of numbers.

Let me focus now on the five charges you leveled against MoRISC and attempt an answer. I do so with the firm understanding that your attitude is one of a MoRISC atheist than an agnostic. While the agnostic harbors doubts and is open to understanding, you have already adjudicated and condemned MoRISC. Yet for the sake of information, it is important to clarify.

On MoRISC’s Place as an umbrella organization of all Southern Cameroons Nationalist Movements in the Diaspora: There have been many recriminations against MoRISC with respect to its claim of being an umbrella organization. When the revolutionary volcano exploded in Southern Cameroons last November, many in the Diaspora cried out for concerted effort. There were online appeals for some coordinated leadership and the need for different groups to coalesce and form a united front. That was a tall order and given the rapid turn of events, there was need to make hay while the sun shines.

Chris, for a publisher of your caliber to peddle in half-truths and outright lies is befuddling. Your sourcing for this was poor and worse still biased.

In the United States of America, the three well known groups fighting for the liberation of Southern Cameroons are the SCNC, Ambazonia-related groups most prominent of which is the Ambazonia Liberation Movement (ALIM) and the SCYL.  Each of the leaders of these groups was contacted. There was even a new group created in New Jersey called Confederation of British Southern Cameroons in the US CBSCNA; And many others have sprung up! During the January 21st conference, these groups were welcomed and given the opportunity to introduce themselves.

Let us be clear that this talk of outreach is a smokescreen used to give the impression that MoRISC is not representative. It would be nice to be specific. And here, I like to talk about the Chairman of the SCYL.

As far as I know, the Chairman of the SCYL was contacted and invited to the very foundation meeting of MoRISC. Dr. Ebenezar Akwanga has taken part in a steering committee meeting of MoRISC and even spoke during the town hall meeting organized last December by MoRISC. He is not in support of MoRISC and that is his right and prerogative but that does not mean he has not been contacted and briefed on the goals and mission of MoRISC.

Edwin Ngang, the poster child of Ambazonia Liberation Movement (ALIM) was contacted and you know, he and his ilk have serious reservations against the rest of the groups that call themselves “Southern Cameroons…” They believe any group that labels itself that way is part of the problem. Edwin, has repeated ad nauseam, that pan-Cameroonianism is the major stumbling block. You can imagine the herculean task it is to get them on the table. He graciously accepted to be a part of the conference and was present.

MoRISC does not seek to reinvent the wheel and believes in the trail blazed by giants on whose shoulders it stands. Hence, efforts were made to recognize these. Be informed that Chief Alexander Taku was invited to the conference and he took part in the conference in DC.

Ambassador Fossung originally accepted to be part of the conference on condition that somebody would pick him up. Entre-temps he changed his mind. You wonder why? Folks of your ilk poisoned the swamp.

Retired Justice Alobwede Ebong was also invited and agreed to be a part of the conference and some confusion on transportation prevented him from showing up.

Be informed too that MoRISC in the planning for the conference that took place last January reached out to Fon Gorji Dinka who is currently in London. He was given the opportunity to record a message and send to the group and he originally declined and said MoRISC could use one of the many messages he had sent out. With hindsight, he changed his mind and sent a message which was played in the evening during the “cry-die.”

It is also worth noting that outreach efforts were made to other groups that were known such as the AAG that believes in federalism as the way out of the current quagmire.

As a good reporter, one would have expected that having taken part in the preparations towards the conference, you should have reported that outreach attempts to women and stalwarts of the struggle were made. You even volunteered during the planning of the conference, to reach out to Prof Kofele Kale and get him to be a keynote speaker and we are still awaiting your feedback.

You claim that leaders show up at protest rallies not as organizers but as any other Southern Cameroonian would. This grandstanding must end! Tell those leaders to organize their own demonstrations and invite others. They come to a rally and are recognized and given the opportunity to address the people and it becomes an issue. If they had shown up and not given that attention, they would have cried foul.

I would suggest that those leaders pray this famous prayer of St Francis of Assisi:

Lord Make me an instrument of your peace Lord: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where   there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

May they seek not so much to be understood as to understand!

“The Draft Constitution that Surfaced in DC” is your next charge. MoRISC has a legal team that drafted that Constitution. Again your sourcing was wrong, poor and prejudiced. It is so easy to give a dog a bad name and hang it. Chris, it is shameful that members of MoRISC’s own steering committee did not read the draft constitution. This is the problem with us all. That document was circulated at least 24 hours to the conference. Do not forget that the only way to hide information from a black man is to write it in a book.

I hope you are not insinuating that a constitution is only worthwhile when written by a team. You worked on hearsay and concluded that the constitution was done by one person. There were at least eight fine legal minds that worked on that document. Now that a team prepared that document, you still have issues with it. Every constitution is a working document.

I would agree that may be more time should have been given for people to read through the document. Hopefully, many have had the opportunity to read the draft document and are prepared to send forth proposed amendments for the 11th Feb conference in Hagerstown.

On MoRISC as a political organization – It would be instructive to research on the various ways of registering an organization in the US and the implications not just for donors but for those running it. It is very easy to stoke the flames of sentiments and make outlandish claims. What do you understand by a political organization? Please school yourself on what the options are, the implications of each and the advantages/disadvantages of registering groups in the United States.  How do you for proper tax purposes constitute an organization in the US and blend that with the activism and diplomacy needed to achieve the goal of the independence of Southern Cameroons. What do you suggest as an alternative? How is the SCNC for example registered in the United States? FYI, SCAPO at the recommendation of the African Union Court deposited registration forms as a political party in Cameroon. How about the SCYL? How is it registered if at all in the United States? Be informed too that it took years for the SCNC to be cleared off the State department’s list as state sponsor of terrorism. We must walk a fine line and not just throw words around?

Your insinuation that MoRISC is a monolithic cabal high jacked by Boh Herbert is a cheap shot. Try again! Why is it that of the over 24 persons on the steering committee of MoRISC, you have singled out Boh Herbert and claim he has “vehemently challenged revision of the group’s status?” You ridicule the rest of us members of the steering committee and make us look like dunces being led by the nostrils. The interim leader of MoRISC’s steering committee has been the Chairman of SCNC. The fact that Herbert has been the public face of MoRISC should not invite this kind of vitriolic attack. To use an editorial page to settle personal vendetta against one with whom one harbors differences in opinion is definitely a cardinal sin in journalism.

On the relationship between MoRISC and the Consortium: For the last couple of months, the name on every lip in Southern Cameroons is the consortium. Thanks to this representative body of lawyers, teachers and drivers which took the country as by a storm, the liberation struggle of Southern Cameroons has been reenergized. Given the reality on the ground and with the sound legal minds that led the consortium, they strategically argued for federation as the ultimate solution to the Southern Cameroons conundrum. While MoRISC unapologetically convened on the sole agenda item of restoration of the independence of Southern Cameroons, it recognized the leadership of the consortium and paid allegiance to it. There is no doubt that given its reality on the ground, the consortium could only do that much. Many of us had sustained conversations with members of the consortium. As a body, MoRISC recognized its role as a diaspora organ working with external options and exploring international options.

Ivo Tapang, has been invited many times to join the Communications committee and he has elected not to. There were attempts made to have him be a keynote speaker at the last convention. That too fell through.

It is not for want of trying. Do you know the relationship the consortium had with the political leaders of the different groups in the struggle back at home? It would be nice for you to read, re-read and understand where the Consortium was going to and why they did what they did.

Structures on the Ground: Again this charge against MoRISC while valid is premature and presumptuous. Concretely, the only organization that has structures on the ground in Southern Cameroons is SCNC. It would be nice to find out what you mean by structures? Office space? Or did you mean human resources/boots on the ground? If it is about human resources, MoRISC is barely two months old today. It is work in progress. Yet, it is gathering momentum in South Africa, in Europe, in Africa and even here in the United States of America. MoRISC is designed to provide the convening power to galvanize the efforts of SCAPO at the African Union, Ambazonia Liberation Movement at the United Nations and the SCNC. It seeks to serve as a lubricant while at the same time creating space for non-aligned members of any of the current outfits to also participate. This is where the rubber meets the road.

Your reference of Hon. Wirba is yet another desperate attempt at legitimizing baseless claims and sanitizing half-truths. Hon. Wirba has received more phone calls since his courageous speech in Parliament than all his life put together. Yes, MoRISC reached out to him to invite him to the conference last January 21st and he explained that there are too many groups inviting him all around the world and he thinks this is not the opportune moment for him to travel. He clearly indicated that he thinks it is premature and more coordination needs to be done.

You can see how much time one has wasted responding to these gripes that could have been settled inter nos. We must make no mistake: La Republique is not the only enemy Southern Cameroons has. We too, the people of Southern Cameroons are out best enemies. Your editorial was an epic betrayal of journalism, laden with innuendoes, half-truths or rather “alternative facts” I urge you to tighten your role as a watchdog. Just be careful that the dog does not turn and bite its master while the enemy is pillaging and plundering the master’s property. It would be an overstatement to claim MoRISC as it stands is a perfect gem. It is work in progress and we can either let it blossom or at our own peril seek to choke it.

 

 

Who is thankful for me? By Lambert Mbom

It is yet another celebration of “Thanksgiving” in the United States arguably the most American of all holidays. It is an eminently “familial” event. Family reunions are the staple and in fact the highest common factor that characterize the celebration. It is food, family and friends. An intrinsic part of this tradition is the annual presidential pardon of two turkeys. While it sounds perfunctory, this presidential act draws an inner connection between forgiveness and gratitude. One is here reminded of Pope Francis’ recommendation for couples to learn to say, Please, thank you and I am sorry.

In my random musings of the significance of this annual event, I could not help but notice that it comes towards the end of both the calendar year and the liturgical year of the Catholic Church. Hence, it seems thanksgiving is always a celebration of the past. It is always in the rearview.

Looking back in retrospect there is a lot to be grateful for. The many crises moments that one weathered thanks to the many Good Samaritans. One is reminded daily of Ola Rotimi’s words: “The struggles of man begin at birth.” If gold is tested in fire, then life’s storms and vicissitudes present golden moments of growth. Being a Catholic emboldens me to be grateful for the many precious moments life has “tortured” me on this earthly pilgrimage. This is not an impertinent penchant for suffering but an acknowledgement that such is life and to be grateful for these moments. After all, there is a silver lining to every cloud.

In this school of gratitude, the experience of gratitude propels one to be grateful. Hence, on this day, it seems appropriate to reflect on not just being grateful but also of being the subject of gratitude. I remember the protest somebody registered with respect to the bland response “Do not mention” when someone says thank you. One appreciates gratitude better when one is being appreciated. No matter how much we pretend, we feel slighted and hurt when we don’t get those words of appreciation. Conversely, there is a deep sense of motivation when those words “thank you” come our way. Hence, today, the question for me is more, who is grateful for and/or to me? Thanksgiving presents a dual challenge namely: to learn to be grateful but also to learn to provide opportunities for others to be grateful to us.

St. Paul captures this very beautifully when he exhorts the Corinthians: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged by God. (2 Cor.1:3-4) Gratitude calls us to action.

One of the areas of growth is in forgiveness. If the Turkey that lacks the capacity for either crime or sin is receiving forgiveness, then we who have the capacity, ask for forgiveness from and grant forgiveness to others. Opray Winfrey expresses this more poignantly when she says: “When we learn to say thank you and mean it, then we also learn to say, I am sorry. True forgiveness is when you can say, thank you for that experience.” Our celebration of thanksgiving then carries more meaning today when we can say also “I am sorry” and “You are forgiven.” A common denominator between gratitude and forgiveness is humility. Gratitude is an acknowledgement of one’s insufficiency and indication of dependency. To be able to say “I am sorry” and “You are forgiven” requires a certain modicum of humility. Gratitude and forgiveness are twin sisters to the parent, humility.

While I say thank you to the many persons that graced and laced my paths over the past 12 months, that is, since the last thanksgiving, I invariably jump to ask myself: who is grateful today that I have forgiven them or that I have apologized to them for some wrong done? Without brooding over the fact of having done something and not being recognized for it, I would rather forgive for the explicit neglect and oversight. Thanksgiving invariably takes on an added dimension within the background of forgiveness.

May families that gather around the dinner table share the meal and not just eat. Josef Pieper reminds us that the meal has a “spiritual or even a religious character.” And like Scruton adds: “That is to say, it is an offering, a sacrifice, and also – in the highest instance – a sacrament, something offered to us from on high, by the very Being to whom we offer it. Animals eat, but there is nothing in their lives to correspond to this experience of the “meal” as a celebration and endorsement of our life here on earth. When we sit down to eat, we are consciously removing ourselves from the world of work and means and industry, and facing outwards, to the Kingdom of ends. Feast, festival and faith lift us from idleness, and endow our lives with sense.” Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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Rev Fr. Celestine Diang: My Forgotten Mentor – Happy Silver Jubilee! By Lambert Mbom

The month of April and the liturgical season of Easter which often coincide mark important moments in the lives of most priests of the ecclesiastical province of Bamenda(archdiocese of Bamenda, dioceses of Buea, Kumbo, Mamfe and Kumba). Priestly ordinations often take place during the Easter Octave. Many priests thus celebrate the anniversaries of their ordination in April.

Two and half decades ago, I witnessed the ordination of Rev Fr. Celestine Diang and Rev. Fr. Joseph Awoh both of the diocese of Buea who recently celebrated their silver jubilee with their classmate of the diocese of Kumbo, Bishop Agapitus Fon now Bishop of newly erected diocese of Kumba. Each of them played an important part in my life: Fr Celestine guided me on the labyrinthine journey to the Catholic priesthood which ended prematurely albeit; Fr. Awoh provided a much needed “pillow” when I crashed out of the race and began teaching in CCAS Kumba while Bishop Agapitus remained close to my family and afforded them the necessary support. To each of them I want to use this medium to express my gratitude for all they provided me.

I particularly dedicate these lines to Fr. Celestine Diang who provided me a much needed lens into the exigencies of parish life. St. Joseph’s parish, Muyuka became my pastoral lab even before I went to the major seminary.

First, I watched Fr Celestine enjoy his priestly life as he burnt with zeal for his father’s house. He took me to the many outstations of Muyuka and thus prepared especially for the experience I would later on live out in St Gabriel’s parish Bafmeng while on pastoral experience. I remember vividly the pastoral visit to Bavenga and the very warm welcome all the Christians afforded you. The many times “going to the bush” became a priority rather than sitting in the comfort of the office of the main parish would become instrumental when I had to spend time in the resettlement camp of Lake Nyos victims in Buabua.

In the words of Pope Francis, the pastor must smell of his sheep and I find an apt instantiation of these words in your ministry. Particularly striking to me is the fact that Fr. Celestine introduced me to the Daiga’s in Muyuka not one of those rich families of the parish but simple, dedicated Catholics who attended mass daily and struggled to eke out a living but graciously welcomed me as their oldest son. It could have been easy to let me enjoy the cozy comforts of the parish but Fr. Celestine afforded me the opportunity to learn that the family as domestic Church is a strong foundation for building one’s vocation. He not only expanded my world view but also extended my family.

Fr Celestine has an unrivaled passion for liturgical music. He infected me with this and while many people wrote some us off as being “tone deaf,” I invariably developed a passion for liturgical music. I remember exploiting Fr. Celestine’s impressive library of tapes of music from the seminary choir which I “ravished” daily. In addition, I admired Fr. Making the time to teach the choir and prepare for the liturgy and taught me the value of good music for worship.

Fr. Celestine also impressed upon me the value of enjoying a good meal. I learnt basic table manners and the value of a meal as an act of worship. I relish the flashbacks of those trips to BOTA with the occasional lunch at the Procure, the stop overs at different parish houses sharing in priestly camaraderie and above all the finesse with which Fr. Celestine consumed corn fufu and roasted chicken, staple meal of the Kom people. I am reminded of my dad’s friend of blessed memory, Pa David Teh who had a healthy appetite for corn fufu and vegetables. In this Fr exemplified one of the best ways of staying true to his Kom identity out of Kom without the parochial entrapments wont of such cultural affiliations.

It warmed my heart when your Bishop decided to send you to Rome to study Spirituality and I found this definitely apropos. The two books you offered me to read while under your tutelage were Teresa Avila’s book on mental prayer and the biography of Cure D’Ars. These left an indelible imprint on my mind.

For these and more others mention of which would be superfluous, I would like to say Thank you! My formative years might not have yielded the desired intention namely ascending to the altar as a priest but they impacted my life in a real way and that is why the experience has remained evergreen in my mind. They remain invaluable lessons and you continue to inspire me even to be a good person and a saintly one too.

Celebrating Lent in the Year of Mercy. By Lambert Mbom

Lent 2016 is here. It is 15 days old. It came in quite early. Did we not just celebrate Christmas? Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter. But everything points to Easter, the culmination of our Christian faith. This year’s celebration of Lent has an added value and significance given it is the Year of Mercy. Pope Francis inaugurated this year while on pilgrimage to war torn Central African Republic on the last lap of his apostolic visit to Africa last December 2015. While he spent the first Sunday of Advent in Africa, Pope Francis spent the First Sunday of Lent in Mexico. The Christian life is in essence a pilgrimage. This Lent seems to be an appropriate time to follow the example of Pope Francis and go on a pilgrimage but more than just a physical journey, it is an opportune moment to fatten our spiritual leanness and trim our spiritual excesses.

As I reflected on what this Lent holds for me, I found the answer in Pope Francis’s homily at Ecatepec, Mexico. It was not just the fact that in visiting this poor and crime ridden city, Pope Francis struck a favorite chord in his ministry namely going out “to the periphery” but also the message he delivered on that first Sunday of Lent.

Vatican Radio’s description of Ecatepec seems to bear resemblance to the messiness of the spiritual life for some of us: “It’s now an ugly sprawl of a shanty town littered with rubbish in one of Mexico’s ‘barrio bravo’.  An expression meaning a lawless neighborhood where organized crime, pollution and poverty reign and where most people fear to tread.”

In his homily for first Sunday of Lent, Pope Francis exhorted us all to ward off temptations by following the example of Christ. In this familiar passage of the Temptation of Christ, we find Christ using Scriptures to respond to the devil’s temptations. The Gospel passage referring to Scriptures notes that “It is written…” and “It also says…” Even the devil takes up the example of Christ and in Luke’s account the devil builds the third temptation from scriptures and quotes the Psalm. Pope Francis however exhorts us not to dialogue with the devil.

In his off the cuff remarks, Pope Francis calls us to imitate Christ and use Scriptures to fight off the devil’s temptation. This is a continuation of his Lenten message of 2016 where he says: “For all of us, then the season of Lent in this jubilee year is a favorable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practicing the works of mercy.” In the Pope’s message for Lent 2016, Pope Francis calls for an “attentive listening to the Word of God” stressing the “prayerful listening to God’s word, especially His prophetic words.”

But just what does “attentive listening to the word of God” entail? There is a serious charge against us Catholics by our other Christians that we do not know the bible. We shall take up that charge on a different day. Let each of us examine their conscience and find out where we are on this. How familiar are we with the word of God. I have heard it repeated to me very often that you must know someone to love the person. One of the best ways to know God is in and through the bible. Not just memorizing some stock verses and parroting them but actually praying with the Bible.

One method of attentive listening is the Church’s ancient practice of lectio divina. This is a way of encountering God through Scriptures normally by reading a specific passage from the Bible and using that as the basis for prayer. Lectio Divina is not the traditional bible sharing or reading the bible for edification but letting oneself be soaked in and steeping oneself in Scriptures.

Lectio Divina is characterized by four steps namely: Reading, Thinking, Praying and Acting. The renowned professor of scripture, Fr James Martin (SJ) describes the process thus: Reading: You pick a scriptural text and then you read it.  At the most basic level, you ask: What is going on in this passage? What does the text say? Meditation: What is God saying to me through this text? At this point, you ask whether there is something that God might want to reveal to you? It is recommended that one chooses a word or phrase from the passage and meditate on it. Prayer: What do I want to tell God about this text? Then Action: We are always called upon to do something: Quite simply Go forth and be a witness. This year, we are called to practice the works of mercy.

We live in a very noisy world and we are bombarded by many distractions and attractions. We hear too many discordant voices and hence end up hallucinating. Our pilgrimage this Lent should help us center our lives on God by listening attentively to Him. Let us walk with God this Lent through Sacred Scriptures. Ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.

Pope Francis in the last paragraph of his 2016 Lenten message exhorts us: “Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favourable(sic) a time for conversion!” Recalling God’s words of mercy written all over the Bible we too should become missionaries of mercy in this year of mercy.

Visiting the sick in the Year of Mercy by Lambert Mbom

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The Basilica of the National Shrine – last Tuesday launched its 2016 Speaker and Event Series with a splendid lecture on “Compassion – The Thirst of God: Visiting the sick as a work of mercy” by Msgr. Brian Bransfield, recently elected General Secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Pope Francis has given us an incredible year, said Bransfield. In fact, he has given us two gifts namely the notion of the Church as a field hospital where we meet Jesus Christ. And secondly, Pope Francis has introduced us to the Year of Mercy.

In an interview to the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro, published in the Catholic magazine, America in September 2013, Pope Francis in answer to the question on the kind of Church he dreams of, responded: “I see clearly that the thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the Church as a field hospital after battle…” This possibly explains why of all the spiritual and corporal works of mercy this first lecture of the year focused on visiting the sick.

The Year of Mercy officially launched last December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and runs through to November 2016, Solemnity of Christ the King.

The Holy Father invites us to deepen our notion of mercy through an understanding of the compassion of God, a compassion manifested in Christ, Bransfield told the over 40 persons that had stayed after evening mass to listen to him.

It is no mere coincidence that this jubilee Year of Mercy kicked off on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception which happens to be the patronal feast of the Basilica of the National Shrine. The Basilica is intimately connected to this Year of Mercy then.

In his recommendations for the celebration of this year, Pope Francis calls on Catholics to reflect on and live out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, one of which is visiting the sick. Bransfield submits that compassion is at the heart of visiting the sick.

Drawing from a rich pastoral experience while ministering to the sick in a large parish in his diocese of origin, Philadelphia, he recounted a life changing experience with a dying woman in a hospice room. As he blessed her, she repeated the blessing after him but ended up saying: May the blessing of the Lord come upon you and keep your faith alive. Visiting the sick is an act of faith and benefits both the guest and the visitor.

“We may think we do the sick a favor when we visit them. In some sense we do,” said Bransfield. Christ invites us to the ministry of the sick. He himself touched the leper and entered into the margins of life. The speaker urged all to enter into the uncomfortable space of visiting the sick. They are Jesus Christ to us.

These words echo a favorite theme of Pope Francis namely reaching out to the peripheries.

“We must get out of ourselves and go toward the periphery. We must avoid the spiritual disease of the Church that can become self-absorbed: when this happens, the Church itself becomes sick. […] Between a Church that goes into the street and gets into an accident and a Church that is sick with self-referentiality, I have no doubts in preferring the first. (Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the pre-conclave General Congregation of the Cardinals, March 2013)

Msgr. Bransfield then explained the Christo-centric character of visiting the sick noting that, “When we visit the sick, we imitate Christ the physician; when we visit the sic, we visit Christ the victim. But it is also an act of compassion.” But just what does it mean to be compassionate?

Availing of the parables of the Good Samaritan and Prodigal son, Msgr.Bransfield elucidated the meaning of compassion beyond just feeling sorry for someone. He demonstrated how the anonymous man who fell in the hands of robbers and laid wounded is doubly hurt by the rejection especially of the priest and Levite who passed by. Many of the sick in our community feel this sense of abandonment and rejection in hospitals, hospices and nursing homes, he intimated.

The Samaritan’s action teaches us compassion. The parable recounts that the Samaritan was traveling and was moved with compassion for the victim. The essence of compassion here is conveyed from the Greek meaning of compassion, “splekchne” – inner most places are trembling with the presence of God. The Father in the parable of the prodigal son is also moved with compassion – he is trembling.

We visit the sick because Christ leads us there and he ministers to us and to the sick.

“On the Cross, Christ gives new meaning to all suffering. He cries out: I thirst, he empties everything. In this cry of I thirst, Christ calls us to works of mercy. He invites us to visit the sick: I was sick and you visited me. He draws us to the mercy of God. We enter into God’s mercy as we step closer to those who are sick,” concluded Bransfield.

At the end of the talk, the speaker had the opportunity to autograph some of his books which were on sale in memorial hall out of the Crypt Church where the lecture had taken place. The Next lecture will be on February 17th after the 5:15pm mass.

 

Walk With Francis: Pope Francis in the US by Lambert Mbom

In 30 days’ time, Pope Francis will be in the US on an official and pastoral visit that will bring him to Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia. Ahead of this visit, the archdiocese of Washington D.C. launched a “Walk with Francis” project that invites Christians to honor the pope’s visit by prayer, service and action. Four weeks ahead of this visit, 2278 persons and 54 parishes/organizations have taken the pledge to walk with Francis and 2697 messages shared on social media according to archdiocese’s website, www.walkwithfrancis.org

In preparation for this visit, I have decided to walk with Pope Francis.  I have committed to read five books by and about Pope Francis over the next four weeks. Of course, what better way to begin this journey other than reading his latest encyclical, “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home” Even though touted as an encyclical on the environment, commentaries reveal it is groundbreaking in many respects and Franciscan. It sure will make Stephen Beale’s “7 Papal encyclicals that changed the world.”http://catholicexchange.com/7-papal-encyclicals-that-changed-the-world

Were the Pope to call me on my personal cellphone or were I to receive a personal letter in the mail from the Pope, it would be historic. Yet, surprisingly, I left this personal letter unread since May 24th, 2015. Well, since the Pope will be in town, it seems incumbent that one reads this letter so as not to be embarrassed by the question: Have you read the letter I sent to you three months ago?

Child psychologists have us believe that the first two years in the development a child are very important. The veil of obscurity of Rev. Jorge Bergoglio who became Pope Francis tapers off in the first two years of his pontificate. He is the surprised choice to shepherd the Church and in deed he is a Pope of Surprises. Two books that capture the defining infancy of his papacy are, The Church of Mercy: A Vision of the Church and Antonio Tornelli’s, Fioretti-The Little Flowers of Pope Francis.

Pope Francis’ ecclesiology is worth examining to be able to understand his statements and declarations. For an avowed conservative or one with conservative trappings like me, it is imperative to discern where Francis is taking the Church to. In the light of the forthcoming Synod on the Family (October 4-25, 2015), and in preparation for the Year of Mercy (December 8, 2015 – November 20, 2016), the Vatican’s authorized Church of Mercy is a must read.

The Vatican Insider, Tornelli’s “The Little Flowers…” also celebrates the first year of the Francis Pontificate offering “inspiring stories, incidents, encounters, and excerpts from the writings and talks of Pope Francis”

It would be interesting to see the points of convergence and divergence between the two books celebrating the first anniversary of Pope Francis’ pontificate.

To understand where Pope Francis is leading the Church to, it is just fitting to know who he is and where he is coming from.  Austen Ivereigh’s, The Great Reformer: Francis and the making of a Radical Pope is tempting enough and I look forward to devouring it nine months after getting an autographed copy of this work last December at its launch at Georgetown University.

Given that Pope Francis is coming to the United States, it seems appropriate to savor some American flavor and who else but John Allen merits consideration. His most recent publication, “The Francis miracle: Inside the transformation of the Pope and the Church,” is quite enticing.

Join me on this pilgrimage!

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