Bishops condemn attack and abduction in a church in Cameroon
By Lisa Zengarini
The Catholic Bishops of the Bamenda Ecclesiatical Province, in the north-western Anglophone region of Cameroon, have condemned in the strongest terms an arson attack against a local church, in which nine people, including five priests and a nun, have been been kidnapped.
The St. Mary's Catholic Nchang Parish in the Diocese of Mamfe was attacked by dozens of unknown gunmen on Friday evening, September 16. The abductees haven’t yet been released and their whereabouts are unknown.
An umprecedented attack
In a statement, the Bishops of the Bamenda Provincial Episcopal Conference (BAPEC) express “shock and utter horror” at what they term as an umprecedented “heinous attack against the house of God and the Messengers of God” and call for the immediate release of those abducted.
According to Radio Evangelium of Mamfe Diocese, the nine abductees also include a catechist, a female cook, and a teenager living with the sisters. After the news broke out, the local ordinary, Bishop Aloysius Fondong Abangalo, rushed to the site to take away the Blessed Sacrament and the Crucifix in the church.
The attack is the latest violent incident targeting local Church members in the conflict-ridden Anglophone regions where separatists have been fighting the Francophone-controlled central government since 2017.
Enough is enough
In their statement the Bishops of the Bamenda Province say the attack “has now crossed the red line” and that “Enough is enough”, calling upon the perpetrators and those who support them to repent for their act, because, they say, “no one ever fights against God and wins”.
The prelates decry the fact that the ongoing separatist conflict is now targetting all Churches, whether Catholic, Presbyterian or Baptist, noting that some of those who attack them are people who are either members of these Churches, or who have benefitted from their generosity.
The bishops of the Ecllesiastical Province, which includes Bamenda Archdiocese and the Dioceses of Kumbo, Kumba, Mamfe and Buea Dioceses, express their “solidarity and prayerful wishes” to Bishop Abangalo, the Clergy, women and men religious, and the Catholic laypeople “and especially to the Christians of St. Mary's Parish Nehang, during this trying moment.”
They further “call on people of goodwill to exercise vigilance over the temporal goods of the Church and her personnel and protect them from the powers of the Evil One.”
For his part Bishop Abangalo called upon the faihful in his diocese to say a Rosary of reparation throughout the month of October for what he termed as “an act of abomination”. In a video published on Facebook , he also announced that at the end of that month a Mass is going to be celebrated “to seek God’s blessings on our land”.
Issues should be resolved peacefully
Referring to the to the perpetrators, he says “They should know that they are children of God and that the Lord is ready to forgive". He further insists that the current disputes between separatists and the central government should be discussed peacefully and not by killing, harassing people and destroying property.
The ongoing conflict in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon
The ongoing armed conflict in Northwest and Southwest Cameroon, which in 2022 entered its sixth year, has claimed thousands of lives, displaced millions, destroyed properties and, and created a severe humanitarian crisis in the region.
The immediate origins of the crisis stem from a year-long protest in Anglophone regions in 2016, following incessant complaints about the neglect and marginalisation of the English-speaking community by the Francophone elites who have been leading the country since independence in the early sixties. Tensions rapidly escalated into a secessionist political conflict in 2017 with separatists calling for the creation of an independent state called “Ambazonia”.
The violence has taken a heavy toll on the civilian populations in the Northwest and Southwest regions, with attacks against schools, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and a general sense of insecurity forcing millions of Cameroonians to flee to neighbouring countries.
The Church's stance on the conflict
In all this, the Church has been vocal, calling for an end to the violence and for reconciliation between the sides in conflict.
Though it has insistently maintained a neutral stance, while trying to advocate for peace and reconciliation, it has been criticized by both conflicting parties for not taking a tough enough position against the other and several Church members have been attacked or harassed. These include late Cardinal Christian Wiyghan Tumi, former Archbishop of Douala, who was abducted by separatists on November 5 2020 and released on the next day.
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