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Bishop Bibi Turns 50! Let them say. By Lambert Mbom.

Birthday anniversaries are milestones that set markers on one’s life trajectory. Fifty is such a golden age and a time for great celebrations. While such celebrations seem perfunctory, they carry immense significance. It is a celebration of life, of a journey and of course, achievements. In private, it is or should be a time of stocktaking.

One way of celebrating a birthday is by “recovering the origins” an idea beautifully expressed in this line: “To know ourselves – and become fully who we are – we have to look back to our origins. The word that seems most apt here is anamnesis, a remembering that connects our present to the past.” In Catholic liturgy it draws significantly from the Eucharist with the words “Do this in memory of me.” In a sense, then true celebrations of birthdays should be a memorial.

The first gift we receive at birth and carry throughout life is our names. Our destinies are wrapped up in the names ascribed to us at birth. To recover the origins of Bishop Michael Bibi, the golden boy, it seems fitting to pay a little bit of attention to his names. The bishop himself recounted that at his birth, there was a little scramble on what name to ascribe him and his grandmother had the last word: “let them say” which turned out to be his middle name “Miabesue.” This presents a little insight to the modus operandi of the bearer of the name. True to his name, he knows how to cut through the noise.

The providential coincidence of Bishop Bibi’s celebration of his golden jubilee in Buea, a few months after taking canonical possession of the diocese of Buea is worth pondering. At the time he celebrated his 49th birthday, he found himself embroiled in an unprecedented backlash as Apostolic Administrator. He had committed the cardinal sin against the Holy Spirit: he had dared touch the golden goose of the diocese: Catholic University Institute of the Diocese of Buea (CUIB) and recalled the popular president of the university, a priest of the diocese.

Bishop Bibi’s arrival as the apostolic administrator also saw the rise of the ecclesiastical gossip paper, “Catholic Spectator”. Threats on his person, frivolous lawsuits and calumny did not deter Bishop Bibi. True to his name and unperturbed by the filth, he stayed the course as though to say: Let them say! The naysayers sought canonical marabouts, poisoned the wells with the tribal tag and held prayer vigils invoking doom and gloom so the Apostolic Administration would not accede to the prime real estate as chief shepherd of the diocese of Buea. They drowned in their own cesspool as Miabesue prevailed as though to say: Let them say!

The fact that Buea diocese got an apostolic administrator immediately instead of a successor Bishop should give some pause. This diocese, the mother of all dioceses in the Bamenda ecclesiastical province had been in crisis since the advent of Bishop Bushu. This remains a basket case of poor adjustment to episcopal transition. With the retirement of now deceased Bishop Pius Awa fondly revered by his priests ascribing to him the title “Pantokrator” literally translated as the “Almighty” and the arrival of the more spiritually inclined Bishop Bushu, the presbyterate of Buea became dangerously divided. The one sticking point that defined and almost derailed the episcopacy of Bishop emeritus Bushu remains the elevation of a coterie of priests and prioritization of their agenda over all others. While Bishop emeritus Immanuel Balanjo Bushu saw his ministry blighted by the infamous memorandum written by his priests accusing him of neglect and playing favorites, Bishop Bibi’s as Apostolic Administrator launched off amidst skepticism, cynicism and outright rejection.

Bishop could not rely just on “Miabesue” – Let them say but invariably turned to Michael. The name Michael is ascribed to one of the archangels and has Hebraic origins expressed rhetorically as “Who is like God?”  True to his name, Michael, nobody is like God, he leveled the playing fields and thus won the ire of the old barons and their cronies. The failure of many to grasp the eternal wisdom of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s literary genius captured in his famous line “the old order changeth yielding place to new; And God fulfils himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world,” explains the tensions that bedeviled the experience.  

The Bible portrays Michael as a soldier and as an archangel. He is named as the protector of Israel while in the book of Revelation, Michael is portrayed as the leader of heaven’s armies in the war against Satan. In Cameroon, the fire brigade is part of the military. Michael, the soldier was sent to extinguish the flames burning in Buea diocese seeking to consume it. He came as a firefighter and troubleshooter and in twelve months demonstrated pastoral leadership skills calming the storms rocking the boat.  He might not have been the Bishop Buea Diocese wanted but he is the one the diocese got. One could opine that Buea got an archangel who is a soldier to burnish it and purify it.

Turning 50 while a Bishop is a great feat and a great blessing. Msgr. Paul Verdzekov became a Bishop at the age of 39 having been a priest for only ten years. Msgr. Pius Awa became Bishop at the age of 40 and Msgr. Cornelius Esua became Bishop at the age of 39 having been a priest for averagely ten years. Bibi became a Bishop at the age of 45 having been a priest for 17 years. The wisdom of the experience of years as a priest should be handy and serve the episcopacy. It seems apropos to exhort Bishop Michael Bibi not to let himself be pushed around or be seen as being pushed around. Episcopal collegiality is very important but so is episcopal independence. It is the one lesson he can learn from Bishop emeritus Immanuel Bushu who stood his grounds to create CUIB while the provincial project CATUC was afoot. The symbiotic relationship between him and his predecessor seen in the fact that Bishop emeritus Bushu preached at Bishop Bibi’s 20th anniversary celebration as a priest and Bishop Bibi preached at their joint birthday celebrations is great mark worthy of mention.

In recovering the origins, one thing that must never be lost to Bishop Bibi is his origins. His daily prayer should be the words of King David: “Who am I Lord and what is my lineage that you have brought me this far? (2 Samuel 7:18) And come to think about it, when next the question: Can anything good come from Metta quarter – a notorious neighborhood in Bamenda is posed the answer shall always be a resounding yes! A Bishop!

Bishops have and wield power and a lot of authority. Power is one of the most abused element of the Bishopric. From the humble beginnings in Metta quarters, to Bishop’s house Bamenda and now Bishop of Buea, Bishop Bibi must never contaminate that unassuming personality with hubris. Like the Greek Philosopher Plutarch notes “there is no stronger test of a person’s character than power and authority exciting as they do every passion, and discovering every latent vice.” The exercise of the power and authority bestowed upon Bishop Bibi should bring out the humility of his origins which characterized his life.

It seems fitting to draw a line from Pope Francis’ address to the Roman curia in December 2014 when he lists the spiritual diseases that may plague the curia and the first he references is power/authority. He said inter alia: The disease of thinking we are “immortal”, “immune” or downright “indispensable”, neglecting the need for regular check-ups….A simple visit to the cemetery might help us see the names of many people who thought they were immortal, immune and indispensable! It is the disease of the rich fool in the Gospel, who thought he would live forever (cf. Lk 12:13-21), but also of those who turn into lords and masters, and think of themselves as above others and not at their service. It is often an effect of the pathology of power, from a superiority complex, from a narcissism which passionately gazes at its own image and does not see the image of God on the face of others, especially the weakest and those most in need.[8] The antidote to this plague is the grace of realizing that we are sinners and able to say heartily: “We are unworthy servants. We have only done what was our duty” (Lk 17:10).

The ecclesiological paradigm that animates Bishop Bibi should not just be the institutional namely the Church as an institution but should be the Church as a family.

I have watched from a distance the great pastor that Bishop Bibi is. His pastoral exuberance and effervescence is laudable. Yet, one must hasten to add that there is the need to go slow. The current wave of enthusiasm is to be expected given the diocese’s need for new blood. Every new thing enjoys a certain period of popularity, it soon peters out. My birthday gift to Bishop Bibi on his fiftieth birthday is to remind him that he has 25 long years to serve in Buea or better still as Bishop. I know firsthand how much he wants that diocese to be transformed. With the current predicament of the people mired in an intractable crisis and an economy that is choking, I can only pray Bishop Bibi to go slow with the people of Buea and for someone who has turned 50, he needs to prioritize golden calculated steps.

To this end, I invoke the guidance of St Michael the archangel that he may defend Bishop Michael Bibi in battle, be his protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke the devil, we humbly pray; and may the prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Ad multos annos.

Euro 2020: Blacks in the European Nations’ Cup by Lambert Mbom.

The 2020 European Nations’ soccer jamboree enters its second phase today with the knock off round of 16. Given Europe’s checkered history with Africa especially with respect to colonialism and racism, it seems fitting to enjoy the beauty of the European competition within the backdrop of the current Black Lives Matter Movement and anti-racial sentiments. How is Europe fighting racism, neocolonialism through its much-coveted soccer competition is a question whose answer is blowing in the wind.

It seems worthwhile mentioning in passing that the corporate world’s penchant or seeming pivot to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) is not applicable to such realities. Notice that of all the teams participating at the European Nations Tournament there is not a single African coaching any of them. Fast forward to 2022 when Africa will hold a similar competition, the African Nations Cup and more than half of the coaches would be European and/or white and majority of the African players will be coming from Europe based clubs. One has often had to ask what is African about the African Nations’ Cup?

It seems fitting to attempt to scratch the surface of this million “M-PESA” question by looking at the players of the teams and the countries they represent. Today’s matches will feature four teams namely Wales vs Denmark and Italy vs Austria.

Wales

Wales is part of the United Kingdom that comprises England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Outside the world of soccer not much is known about Wales apart from its rich culture, especially its language. Interestingly, there is a Wales-Africa partnership detailed in the following document: https://gov.wales/sites/default/files/publications/2020-11/wales-and-africa.pdf According to this publication, “Wales has been developing and deepening community or institution based links and partnerships with sub-Saharan Africa”

“The African community in Wales, which hails from a number of countries including Somaliland, Nigeria, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, plays an important role in building and sustaining these relationships particularly through the Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel. A significant and increasing number of people come from sub-Saharan Africa to work in our health and social care services often maintaining strong links with their homeland.”

“To this end, we fund and partner with a civil society partnership operating under the umbrella of Hub Cymru Africa who are able to offer that critical support and tailor it towards different specialist groups ranging from bodies operating in health and education to those working on climate change and equalities issues to diaspora groups”

The current Welsh squad has two players with African genealogy namely Ethan Ampadu who is the son of Kwame Ampadu and is of Ghanaian parentage. Born in Exeter, he currently plays for Chelsea while Benjamin Cabango born in Cardiff and has Angolan heritage. There is Tyler D’Whyte Roberts of Jamaican heritage too.

Denmark

The roster of Denmark has one African namely Yussuf Poulsen 27-year-old born in Copenhagen to a Tanzanian father and a Danish mother. He currently plays for the German side RB Leipzig. There is a large presence of Africans in Denmark. There is a Danish embassy in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Morocco and Nigeria.

History records reveal that Danes were involved in the slave trade from the mid-17th century until the 19th century. Randi Marselis notes in his essay “Descendants of slaves”

From the beginning of the 17th century Denmark took part in the Transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans by shipping them and establishing forts on the African Gold Coast (now Ghana). Later the colony of the Danish West Indies, was established on the three Caribbean Islands, St Thomas (from 1671), St John (from 1718) and St Croix(from 1733) and the slavery system functioned until emancipation in 1848. The Islands stayed under Danish rule until 1917 when they were sold to the US and renamed U.S. Virgin Islands. Due to the sale of the islands, Denmark has never received a substantial flow of immigrants from its former slave colonies as has been the case in Great Britain and Netherlands where descendants of enslaved Africans can be said to have formed minority group

Religious Freedom in Africa at The International Religious Freedom Summit July 13 – July 2021. By Lambert Mbom.

Washington D.C. — According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom 2021 Report released last April 2021, Eritrea and Nigeria are the two African countries of the ten recommended for designation as “Countries of Particular Concern” while Algeria and Egypt had the dubious distinction of landing on the “Special Watch List” and non-state actors Al Shabaab, the terrorist jihadist fundamentalist group based in Somalia and operating in East Africa and Yemen, Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara based in Mali and Niger as “entities of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA).

Against the backdrop of the foregoing and the fact that “Religious freedom touches every culture, nation, religion, and political system” with over 80 percent of the world living in countries “where there are high levels of governmental or societal restrictions on religion, and restrictions have been steadily increasing for several years” that the United States of America convened the first International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington D.C. from Wednesday July 13th through Thursday July 15th 2021.

During this summit that brings together a coalition and seeks to expand it to advance the respect for the right to religious freedom, Africa will feature on the agenda. On its first day, one side event spotlighted Nigeria. Organized by Save the Persecuted Christians, a grassroots organization educating and highlighting the persecution of Christians worldwide, the event sought to highlight the persecution of Christians in Nigeria. The session entitled “Stop the Slavery and Slaughter in Nigeria” addressed the question: Who is funding the violence in Northern Nigeria against Christians. Follow the money to uncover why Nigeria is unraveling, unceasing religious based attacks fueled the enslavement of Nigerian women and girls.

Dr Gloria Puldu, President of the Leah Sharibu Foundation named after Leah Sharibu one of the girls abducted by Boko Haram still being held in captivity because of her faith epitomizes the faith of girls and women in Northern Nigeria, Stephen Enada of the International Committee on Nigeria (ICON) and Alheri Bawa Magaji, Resilient Aid and Dialogue Initiative were among panelists detailing the horror stories of religious persecution of Christians by Muslims and fulanis in Northern Nigeria.

The Family Research Council, the conversative Washington-based thinktank shall host a breakout session on Wednesday July 14th, 2021, at 1;45pm on the theme: “Africa’s Violent Christian Persecution: A Danger to the World” which will examine the causes of the escalating dangers on the continent, featuring eyewitness accounts from survivors and expert analysis of how the international community should respond.

Wednesday’s sponsored Dinner by ADF International will highlight the grave challenges facing Nigeria regarding the protection of religious freedom and the necessity of a sustained and well supported international effort to turn the tide against the violence and discrimination ravaging the country. USCIRF’s designation of Nigeria as a country of particular concern is a recognition of the dire situation facing religious minorities in Northern Nigeria and the Middle Belt. Rev Johnnie Moore, Author of the book, “The Next Jihad: Stop the Christian Genocide in Africa,” Bishop Dr Sunday N Onuoha, of the Nigerian Methodist Church and founder of Vision of Africa, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of the diocese of Sokoto in Northern Nigeria and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council are the witnesses whose voices shall bellow on the issue.

On Thursday, Joy Bishara, a Nigerian Survivor Chibok Girl shall share her testimony during the Morning Plenary Session on IRF in Economy, National Security and Accountability while Nigerian Prelate Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah shall speak on the panel discussing The Rising Tide of Religious Nationalism”

Why I am rooting for England against Italy in Euro 2020 Final? By Lambert Mbom

In a few hours, the Euro 2020 will be in the history books when Italy meets with England. And not that it matters, supporting either one or the other the difference shall be made by the soccer wizardry, technical savvy of managers and players and sheer luck.

It is not just out of sympathy that the Three Lions have not had any luck and savoir faire to bring home any title in 55 years that is driving my support for the English team. By the way, it seems awkward that with the nonchalance of the Brits towards the problem in Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia) that they caused in the first place, I would be supporting them. The mess the Brits left post colonialism is nauseating and in fact the carnage going in the fight for freedom by the former colony is unforgivable and may need the absolution of the Vatican if the Italians could have the courage to ask. Yes, but let us not mix politics and soccer. Soccer is about entertainment.

I must confess that I have never watched any soccer game of the Italian soccer league which by the way has been home to many African immigrants. What is more, I am Catholic and the seat of Catholicism, the Vatican in Rome is in Italy but this is not enough to win my support for the Italian team.


In 2006, I visited Rome and Florence and saw firsthand the plight of African immigrants which left me aghast. Ten years later matters came to a head with the Lampedusa disaster where 366 African migrants lost their lives en route to Italy and am not blaming the receiving country for this.

What is even more sinister is the fact that Italy is one of those teams that has pure European lineage with no African/Black player in its ranks though they have the distinction of having lured a Brazilian to become Italian and play for them. Yes, one may shoot back that this is European soccer!


Most Sundays many African immigrants watch the English Premier League (EPL)! I am a Manchester United fan and have been for years. Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham are the most popular teams amongst African immigrants! Many African immigrants own and proudly don the paraphernalia of these clubs and of course the rivalry, virtual and verbal is part of the daily menu for most of us!

There are currently four Manchester United players with the English team: Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire Marcus Rashford, and Sancho! Two of these have been spectacular throughout the competition.


The English team’s composition reflects the multiracial world we live in! Of course, Nigerian heritage cannot be missing from the picture with the brilliance of the young Bukayo Saka! The bulldozer Kyle Walker of Jamaican descent, Tyrone Mings whose father is from Barbados, the electric Raheem Sterling of Jamaican descent, the daring Rashford with St Kitts parentage, master dribbler Jordan Sancho with parents from Trinidad and Tobago, Kalvin Phillips of Jamaican descent and Calvert-Lewin are the many blacks who have lifted the Three Lions to their first final in a major soccer competition.

The story of England’s soccer team’s successful bid this far is one made possible because of migration. And as Stephen Frost notes in his article “The England Football Team, Diversity and Leadership” in Forbes “The London Migration Museum has run a campaign to remind us that without immigration the England team as we know it would not exist.” 

England’s team is a true reflection of the Commonwealth just as the French team is of the Francophonie. Yet, I could never support the French team because of the influence of France and its strangle effect on African economies and politics. The English have the opposite approach.

The challenge now is for the society to follow the example of its soccer team. When the Euro Cup comes home, let the glory of the title trickle down to the society so that in the index of racism, England might score better. Is it not reflective of the English that during the pregame anthem some have booed at players for taking a knee in demonstration of their fight against racial injustice? Or even the fact that black players like Marcus Rashford are often taunted when their performances at club level are perceived not to have delivered the goods. Racial slurs and nasty reference to color become the dominant show of disdain. This is just scratching the surface.

In 2019 when I visited my sister and her family, I had the rare privilege of dining with some priests from the archdiocese of Bamenda studying and working within the diocese of Portsmouth that has had a long-standing relationship with Bamenda. Stories of racist taunts against some of them demonstrated the deeply ensconced anti-black and anti-African reality of the English.

The glory of the cup coming home and not going to Rome will find true value when the virtue of tolerance becomes a pillar of the English society. If soccer is the gift of the English to the world and given the religious value of soccer in most African countries, herewith an opportunity for the English to avail of to check their racial biases and idiosyncrasies.

Good luck to the Three Lions and bring home the trophy!

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.  

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