By Vatican News staff writer
“It is very heartbreaking. Since then the people have not been happy…children are mourning, parents are mourning.”
Those words of grief were expressed by Bishop Agapitus Nfon of Kumba, as he gave a grim description of the reaction of the people of Kumba after gunmen attacked a private school and killed at least six school children on Saturday.
Bishop Nfon, in an interview with Vatican News, explained the situation in Kumba, and highlighted the long-running conflict in the country’s North-West and South-West regions.
Pope Francis’ closeness to Kumba
During the General Audience on Wednesday, Pope Francis expressed sorrow over the tragic murders, and prayed that the “tormented regions of the North-west and South-west of the country may find peace.” The Pope also expressed his nearness to the families, the city of Kumba and the whole of Cameroon.
Bishop Nfon thanked Pope Francis for “condemning” the barbaric attack, adding that it will go a long way to touch many hearts.
“Many people will know that the Church is against what is happening,” the Bishop said. “And the people in the Diocese of Kumba will feel very consoled by the words of the Holy Father.”
Fear and sorrow
The Bishop explained that since the Saturday tragic murders, children in the region have not been going to school, even though schools remain open, due to a mixture of fear and sorrow. He noted that many of the people have been in mourning for the victims of the heinous act.
“They have stayed home because of fright; they are very frightened,” he said. However, he expressed his desire to see the children return to school after they have come to terms with the sad event.
Some schools in Cameroon have only recently reopened following a four-year shut down due to the ongoing fight by groups calling for the creation of an independent state to be known as Ambazonia.
Cameroon’s four-year conflict has not been without its casualties. Bishop Nfon pointed out that the ecclesiastical province of Bamenda, made up of five dioceses in the northwest and southwest region, has been particularly hard-hit in the crisis.
He explained that some of the people live in the bushes and some others have become internally displaced in towns around the country. Many others, – about 50,000 – have fled into neighboring Nigeria as refugees, fleeing from the suffering and the insecurity that the conflict has brought in its wake.
“The civilians, the innocent people are sandwiched,” Bishop Nfon explained. “They are really suffering. They are afraid of the military and those fighting for independence. They are in misery.”
Appeal of the Bishops
Bishop Nfon said that at the beginning of the conflict in the North-West and South-West regions of the country, the Bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Bamenda wrote a memorandum explaining the situation and suggesting possible steps to quell the tensions. But he said their efforts were mostly ignored by all parties.
“Our message was that there should be inclusive dialogue between the government and those fighting for independence,” said the Bishop, adding that even the leaders of the independence movement who are in prison should be released and allowed to participate in negotiations with the government.
In October 2019, the Cameroonian government, in an attempt to end the crisis, called for talks dubbed “National Dialogue.” The government also granted “special status” to the English-speaking North-West and South-West regions in December 2019.
Bishop Nfon, however, said this dialogue initiative of the government was “not a dialogue”, because the representatives of those concerned were not present.
“How do you dialogue with people who are not there?” he asked.
Appealing for an end to the violence, the Bishop urged the military forces and “the boys fighting in the bushes” to put down their arms, because “we cannot discuss, we cannot find peace, we cannot find justice, we cannot find tranquility in a society when they are fighting.”