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.