• Archives

  • Blog Stats

    • 19,831 hits
  • April 2018
    S M T W T F S
    « Mar    
    1234567
    891011121314
    15161718192021
    22232425262728
    2930  
  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 889 other followers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

When your friend becomes Bishop: Hail Auxiliary Bishop-elect Michael Bibi. By Lambert Mbom

IMG-20170308-WA0023     If someone called and asked me to make an educated guess of the priest chosen from the archdiocese of Bamenda to be bishop, Auxiliary Bishop-elect Michael Bibi would not have readily come to mind. Not in the convoluted sense of the proverbial familiarity breeding contempt but rather because of traditional biases or better still, conventional wisdom.

First, Bishop-elect is not Rector of the St Thomas Aquinas’ Major Seminary (STAMS), Bambui and has not been full time faculty there. Ecclesiastical history shows us that of the five Bishops of the Bamenda ecclesiastical province, only Bishop Nkuo of Kumbo did not have any direct relation with the seminary; three former Rectors of the major seminary in Bambui (Cardinal Tumi, Bishop Bushu and Bishop Agapitus) have become Bishops with one, the lone cardinal of Cameroon. Three former lecturers (Archbishop Esua of Bamenda, Bishop Nkea of Mamfe and Retired Bishop Lysinge of Mamfe) have also become Bishops. Clearly, the path to the episcopacy in the Bamenda ecclesiastical province passes through the major seminary. My friend does not fit that mold even though he taught on a part time basis in the seminary. It is worth mentioning that Bishop-elect Michael Bibi is the fifth ex-student of STAMS, Bambui to become Bishop.

What is more, Bishop-elect Bibi did not study in Rome where he would have been steeped in the ecclesiastical accoutrements wont of the episcopacy or “Bishops-in-waiting.” Or better still, he would have been known amongst the “power-brokers” in Rome. Again, with the exception of the Bishop of Kumbo who studied in Ireland, all the others have studied in Rome. Bishop-elect Michael studied in England where he fortified the legacy of the Bamenda-Portsmouth relationship.

However, like two of his predecessors, Bishops Andrew and Agapitus, Bishop-elect Michael has “walked” the corridors of power having been chancellor of the archdiocese of Bamenda for seven years. Bishop Nkea served as Bishop’s secretary of Buea diocese during the infamous years of the “Maranatha” crises and demonstrated an uncanny expertise that helped diffuse and dissipate the growing tensions. Bishop Agapitus Nfon erstwhile auxiliary Bishop of Bamenda now Bishop of Kumba served as Bishop Esua’s secretary in Kumbo. He later on went to Rome and studied Patristics which he later taught in the seminary before becoming Rector of the seminary. One would not be wrong to opine that Bishop Awa’s legacy lives on with Bishop Nkea of Mamfe and Bishop Nkuo of Kumbo. And now Archbishop Esua’s legacy will live on through Bishop Nfon of Kumba and auxiliary Bishop-elect Bibi.

Bishop-elect’s path to the episcopacy fits the bill of Gerard Hughes’ famous book: God of Surprises! He is the product of “Abakwa” town growing up in Metta quarters of all places and attending Providence Comprehensive College, Mankon not one of those “A-list” of schools. This has been an interesting journey. The very cathedral he would be consecrated in is one he knows very well. He served there as an altar boy and would later be ordained there as a priest in the jubilee year, 2000. He returned to serve as Bishop’s secretary and now comes the icing of the cake with his election as auxiliary Bishop.  This is the work of the Lord!

The 5:30a.m. “Whatsapp” message from Fr. Maurice Akwa announcing the election of Bishop Bibi saw me leaping in joy. My “own man” is now a Bishop! Unlike in political circles whereby such an elevation would have afforded one some favors such as appointments to some high office with financial remuneration, I find my friend’s election as auxiliary Bishop an enormous responsibility to be able to help him accomplish his mission and succeed in his ministry. Chesterton’s words seem appropriate in this context when he opined in his famous work Orthodoxy, that if this was something to stand by, then this should be the norm, that we take the crown and go to the recesses of the world in search of the man who knows he is not worthy to wear it; the man who would sincerely say, like St. Augustine, “Noli me episcopare” – (Not me for Bishop).

My first apostolic assignment in the archdiocese of Bamenda was at the Youth Office. I had the honor of being chaperoned by now auxiliary Bishop-elect who was also on similar assignment. He would pick me up from our Ndamukong street home every morning and drop me off every evening. For six years, while we journeyed through the seminary, we became true friends and real brothers. Both of us were “called” to the priesthood but he was “chosen.”  It would seem odd that all of a sudden because he has become a Bishop, this relationship should fizzle out.

In his recent book, “Living the priesthood: Personal reflections on 25 years of Priesthood,” (which I highly recommend the Bishop-elect to read if he had not already done so, or to re-read within the context of his new position), the author, Rev. Dr. Joseph Awoh underscores the importance of friendship for priests. He notes: “Priests need priests. It is important that all of us have special friends of our presbyterate, religious community or whatever group God has placed us – not only as a psychosocial support system – but also as a spiritual support system. Ideally these friends should be people of our generation – classmates or age mates, people who studied with us in the seminary. (Emphasis is mine).

This is a refreshing recommendation which even though it celebrates “priest-to-priest” friendship, drives home, unintentionally albeit, the role some of us former seminarians are called to play. I belong to a special class of persons who like Bishop-elect felt called to the priesthood but unlike him fell along the way or rather off the way. The greatest tragedy for many of us in this special class is not the fact of having fallen along the way but rather our inability to sustain the relationships we cultivated while on that pilgrimage to the priesthood. Some of us have become so tainted like the biblical lepers that it is scandalous for some priests – our school and classmates- to be friends with us. While there are many reasons for this, it seems the answer lies in what true friendship means.

It might be apropos to read the great philosopher Aristotle’s enunciation of friendship. In his classical work, Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle identifies three kinds of friendship namely, friendship of utility, friendship of pleasure and friendship of the good. With friendship of utility, Aristotle surmises that friends do not love each other in themselves but in so far as some benefit accrues to them from each other. In other words, the friend is not loved for his own sake, but for the sake of some benefit received by the other.

Friendship of pleasure is based on pleasure: for instance, when one enjoys the society of witty people not because of what they are in themselves but because they are agreeable to one.

Aristotle recommends friendship of the good as the perfect form of friendship which is that between the good, and those who resemble each other in virtue. For these friends wish each alike the other’s good in respect of their goodness, and they are good in themselves; but it is those who wish the good of their friends for their friend’s sake who are friends in the fullest sense since they love each other for themselves and not accidentally. It is along such Aristotelian paradigm that I seek to deepen the friendship with the Bishop-elect. Bishops can be very lonely. Even Bishops too have and should have friends.  

          In seeking the key to unlock the contours of his ministry, I found this in the fact that Bishop-elect had a passion for soccer. Interestingly, he played with defunct Adidas Football Club – in the second division league where he guarded the goalpost before proceeding to the minor seminary in Buea.

My first encounter with the Bishop elect happened on the 11th February 1990 when I watched him defend the goalpost in an exciting “Youth Day” final, pitting Bishop Rogan College minor seminary against the vocational school OIC – a mismatch by any standards which turned out to be a repeat of the David-Goliath spectacle. Bishop Rogan College carried the day. I would move there the following year for high school studies. Michael proceeded to the Major seminary in Bambui where for all seven years remained the goalkeeper of the invincible seminary soccer team. One would not be wrong then to observe that just as Christ called Peter, the fisherman to be a fisher of men and he has called Michael the goal keeper to be the goalkeeper of the faith and the flock; in fact goalkeeper of the Kingdom. Be a keeper of your brother priests; be a keeper of catechists.

During his consecration on March 25th, the principal consecrator will address him in the following words: As a steward of the mysteries of Christ in the church entrusted to you, be a faithful overseer and guardian.  Since you are chosen by the Father to rule over his family, always be mindful of the Good Shepherd, who knows his sheep and is known by them and who did not hesitate to lay down his life for them.

The Bishop is a guardian. The French word for goalkeeper is “guardien” which shares some affinity with the English, guardian or custodian. Former goalkeeper for the United States of America soccer team Brad Friedel captures the essence of goalkeeping when he says: Being a goalkeeper gives you quite a unique perspective on things. You are part of a team yet somehow separate; there are no grey areas, with success or failure being measured in real time; and you have a physical job which you can only do well by paying attention to your mental well-being. A great goalkeeper has to have the keys to a great mindset. To be able to work well in the box, I believe you have to be able to think outside the box.”

Mundane as these words may read, they contain practical wisdom for Bishop-elect’s edification.

One cannot fail to recognize the tremendous work the Bishop-elect has already accomplished with the Maryvale Institute in the archdiocese of Bamenda. He has trained many catechists and in fact many lay persons on the rudiments of the faith. I had a feat when my dad informed me about his graduation from the Maryvale institute and told me the nice things he had learnt in Canon Law, Scripture, Liturgy and Church History. Bishop-elect is an expert in Catechetics. Every Bishop is a chief catechist. Having been engaged in the formation of catechists for the local Church, my prayer for my friend is that may the new function he embraces be (in)formed by the lives of the many catechists whose selflessness and dedication in the Lord’s vineyard is unparalleled.

The most celebrated quality of Bishop-elect Michael Bibi is his simplicity. It is the one quality that many have trumpeted since this news broke. The temptation with such a position is its corruptibility. It presents an enhancing environment for the probable and possible to become reality. And as wisdom teaches, “corruption optimi pessima est” – the corruption of the best is the worst. Hence, the virtue could become a vice as a result of the new function. If I could preach a retreat to the auxiliary Bishop-elect (something we recently joked about), I would focus on the words the principal consecrator on the day of consecration would proclaim inter alia:

You, dear brother, have been chosen by the Lord.  Remember that you are chosen from among men and appointed to act for men and women in relation to God.  The title of bishop is not one of honor but of function, and therefore a bishop should strive to serve rather than to rule.  Such is the counsel of the Master: the greater should behave as if he were the least, and the leader as if he were the one who serves. 

To God be the Glory! May the “Yes” you will profess and proclaim on March 25th mirror the “Yes” of the Virgin Mary as you ascend to the high office of auxiliary Bishop on the solemn feast of the annunciation.

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!

 

+/

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

field-hospital-open.jpg

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.

 

Holy Trinity Choir of The Cameroon Catholic Community DC Invites you: Sunday May 31st 2015. By Lambert Mbom

At every event to which we are invited, there is often a dress code: Formal, business casual or casual. For many of us, one distinctive way of celebrating our “Africanness” is by flaunting our traditional garb. In every day jargon, we talk of our “Sunday best” referring to how we dress to Church. It is such a big deal what the First lady wears to any public event. People spend hours speculating and analyzing the dress because it always carries a message. The truth is: our dressing always communicates a message and always indicates the importance we attribute to the said event.

This is no different for the choir. In fact the tradition of wearing choir robes dates as far back as Old Testament when we read David was vested in a robe of fine linen, as were all the Levites who carried the ark, the singers, and Chenaniah, the leader of song; David was also wearing a linen ephod. (1 Chronicles 15:27)

Dr. Schindler, dean emeritus of John Paul II Institute at the Catholic University provides a fitting context when he remarked in an interview:

“The liturgy is an act of worship and at its heart is a pedagogy. Etymologically, it is an instruction that leads people to God. The vestments used are separate from what is worn in everyday life. This becomes an important pedagogical moment. When a person enters the liturgy, they are drawn into something, which requires an effort and an understanding. There is something strange that draws into the mystery. If left with the familiar, then something is lost.”

This seems to be the message for the spectacular event happening on Sunday May 31st 2015 at the Church of the Resurrection, Burtonsville where the Holy Trinity Choir of the Cameroon Catholic Community is organizing a fundraiser to buy choir robes. Beyond the beauty of those angelic and mellifluous voices, this group of young adult Cameroonians seeks to add to the grandeur of the liturgy. Under the distinguished patronage of the pastoral council, this group seeks to raise $6500 to realize this noble ideal.

Join the Cameroon Catholic Community of the archdiocese of Washington DC to bring this dream to fruition. There shall be a musical concert after the 2.30 p.m. mass. Generous donations will be taken up.

Come listen to the consummate Nadege and virtuoso Sam Orock warm your hearts; come and discover the keyboard wizardry of Lazare and Herman. Come enjoy some classy performance from out of this world. It shall be entertaining, relaxing, soul-stirring and a good tonic to spice your week with.

You are specially invited!

%d bloggers like this: