Interviewed by Emmanuel Sanosi
During the coffee break of the report-giving session, which took place at the Yaounde Congress Hall on Thursday September 15, one of the delegates from the Archdiocese of Bamenda, Rev Fr George Ngwa, opened up to L'Effort camerounais, and spoke about a wide variety of issues and the common misconceptions on certain aspects of Ecclesia-in-Africa, especially the youths, evangelisation and inculturation. Excerpts.
Father, we've just listened to reports from the National Episcopal Conferences of Gabon and the Central African Republic. What are your general impressions so far?
I think the reports were very pertinent and covered most of the problems that the Church encounters across the continent of Africa. The reports of Gabon and the Central African Republic were particularly touching because they evoked practically the same problems which we have been encountering in the Diocese of Bamenda.
I especially applauded them on the way they have been trying to overcome some of these difficulties. Those two reports have actually been an eye-opener for some of us and I believe that we have been enriched by them.
Except for many references, Ecclesia in Africa does not really have an explicit objective on the place of the youths in the Church today. Was that an oversight on the part of the Synod Fathers?
That document makes it quite clear in several sections, either directly or indirectly that the youths are the people on whom the document is very much focused. I would like to add that the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda has laid particular emphasis on the parts of that document which concern the youths and has come up with a provincial pastoral plan with 19 commissions to look into every aspect of the document, especially those areas dealing with the youths.
How is the Diocese of Bamenda coping with the large ethnic diversity on matters of inculturation?
I think that diversity is actually a blessing to us because as someone said quite recently, it is a principal means for us preserving our unity, since we do not easily agree, so we don't disagree on those issues that would keep us apart.
It must be said that this vast diversity has greatly enriched the life of our Church. For instance, when you attend Holy Mass in any of the Ngemba areas, the proclamation of the Gospel is delivered just like important messages are delivered in the palace of the Fon.
However, inculturation in itself can be very distracting in the sense that for someone who is not of that culture, one might easily wonder why things are done in a particular way and one becomes a spectator instead of a participant in the Eucharistic celebration.
With inculturation, isn't there a risk of the Church becoming sectionalised such that a native of Bafut, for example, would prefer to attend Holy Mass only where he can identify with the ethnic aspect of things?
Not really, but the Church must educate the People of God to know that inculturation is not a thing to divide them, but rather to make them feel that they belong. I would encourage people to attend Holy Mass anywhere and not go only where things are done according to their ethnic inclinations.
I admit that inculturation might be a difficult issue to handle but we have been doing a lot to educate the lay faithful and a lot still remains to be done, but I feel quite confident that there is no fear at all in that light.
But you just said that someone might easily feel lost during Mass when some aspects foreign to his ethnic origin are manifested. Isn't it a contradiction?
Admittedly, and that’s why it’s important to stress here that educating the people is the key. For instance, there have been cases where during the Lectionary Procession, some people have come bare-bodied in the typical fashion of the way it is done in their palace, but we try to explain to them that it does not conform to human dignity and modesty.
Besides it distracts the congregation from the real substance of the procession, which is to express our joy to the Lord in a manner reflecting our part of the world and our identity. There are yet unforeseen circumstances which with time will necessitate a further re-evaluation of inculturation in order not to distort its true liturgical meaning and significance.
The document Ecclesia-in-Africa makes a strong appeal for instituting structures of Social Communications, yet the Diocese of Bamenda still has to come up with a radio…
That question is very pertinent because I am actually responsible for communication in the diocese and I have religious programs running in three radio stations, which I should say are the three with the widest audience. But those are secular radios.
Don't you think the diocese should have its own radio?
Indeed! But I think setting up a radio needs to be studied very carefully because for one thing, the government policy is not clear on this aspect and just rushing into things may actually prove to be counter-productive.
It may interest you to know that some of the early radio stations in Bamenda town are actually considering selling out to any interested buyers because of the enormous problems they are currently encountering.
The Archbishop of Douala has covered a lot of ground on that. Could you not ask him for guidance and some kind of functional blue-print?
So far, that can be done, but before that the Diocese of Bamenda must carefully evaluate its priorities in order not to have to make an about-turn because something was not properly factored in. We have to consider, for instance, if priority should be given to a few more new schools or health centres and weigh their importance and usefulness against a radio station before starting on the project.
We have projects running in the diocese today, such as the Paul VI Memorial Centre in Mendankwe, which were initially introduced some 20 years ago and had been under careful evaluation and feasibility study all that time. We are seriously thinking about a radio but there is also the print media and other equally effective means of evangelising the people of our diocese.
In the meantime, we have been encouraging all our parishes to start at least a Sunday Newsletter, and as time goes on when the radio eventually becomes operational, you will find that these newsletters will constitute a veritable network of information for the radio.
You should also remember that we have to carefully consider the hilly nature of Bamenda while having in mind a radio that can cover a wide radius. It wouldn't do to open a radio and then discover that we cannot even cover the immediate diocese because one hill or another happens to be too high for our antennas.
Surprisingly, Archbishop Paul is not here for the anniversary. Isn't that odd?
Yes, actually Archbishop Paul Verdzekov is the first person we would have expected here today considering that he was very instrumental in the groundwork, Instrumentum Laboris, for Ecclesia-in-Africa, together with the work he did in Rome before and after the promulgation of Ecclesia-in-Africa and is even right now still working on some documents pertaining to this issue.
You know also that he has suffered poor health for some time now, and we pray for him to regain his health again by God's grace. People should also remember that he is no longer as young as he used to be. Age is setting in and people should not find it unusual when he does not attend some of these Church events.
Whether he is here today or not, we should bear in mind that he is working and has always worked hard for the Church in the archdiocese, the Church in Cameroon and the Universal Church.
From time to time we hear reports of corruption in the Church and of priests even embezzling Church funds. Do you face similar problems in Bamenda?
Yes we have such problems. However, such reports are generally as a result of people hearing a rumour and not taking proper time to find out what actually happens. We are in the process of setting up financial commissions in all the parishes so that such things might stop.
Most times, Christians are misled into believing these rumours when nothing untoward has actually taken place, but we are also working towards engaging and involving Christians in all parish matters so that there shall be accountability and transparency where Church funds are concerned, and also to give the Lay faithful a chance to oversee and actually run Church structures. I think the problem is actually that of poor management on the part of the priest, not really that the priest embezzles these funds.
Youths are generally considered a problem. Has there been a positive change in the diocese ever since Ecclesia-in-Africa was promulgated?
First, I'd like to point out that youths are not a problem as such, because actually they are passing through an age which is not of their making. From their point of view, they believe that they can jump from a storey building and go unharmed, until they really get to try it out and then it's too late.
The real problem in my opinion is that we the adults tend to forget that this age is a difficult one for the youths and we need to accompany them through their difficulties. With that adult guidance and tolerance, the youths can in fact be a very positive force in the Church.
I learned this when I was appointed to the youth ministry and I am still amazed everyday at their charism and faith. All they need is our guidance. There are many of them who are ready to do anything to become better, but we should be there with the moral, spiritual and even financial support for them.
Many people claim that the disproportionately high number of Nso indigenes in the Catholic Priesthood is proof of tribalism in the Church. Do you agree?
The first thing I should like to point out is that there is no monopoly to the Catholic Priesthood and nobody has the Priesthood as a right. That is one area where 'Human Rights' has no say as such. The Catholic Priesthood is a call, a vocation, and I always tell my brother priests who are from Nso to thank God that their ancestors accepted the faith very early, which gave that vocational boom to the sons and daughters of Nso. It is not the same thing in Bafut from where I come.
As a matter of fact, my forefathers actually fought very hard against the advent of Christianity and Catholicism in particular in my native land, and there are many martyrs in Bafut today as testimony to the bitter struggle against accepting the Catholic Faith in Bafut. Many people died in the fight. This is something among the Nso people which I believe should not be overlooked. We should actually be thankful for that.
Again, look at what is happening to the Church in Europe today. History shows that the faith is practically dying over there whereas in the old days, Poland, for example, used to produce as many as four priests from the same family. With the passage of time and the decline in the faith, today, you cannot even find one priest from out of five families.
The Church in Cameroon should thank God that the sons and daughters of Nso are flocking to answer the call. To me, it is something to rejoice over, not criticise in the name of tribalism. Sons and daughters of Kom too are also rising in their numbers to answer the priestly call and other vocations, so it is not tribalism at all. It is a blessing to our Church.
Moreover, one does not just get up in the morning and become a priest in the afternoon. The priestly vocation calls for very long and hard studies and dedication. Right from the minor seminaries through our Major Seminaries and convents, Nso boys and girls outnumber all the others.
It would have to be considered like a ministerial appointment where no training and dedication is required before we can even hint of tribalism. The process is long and calls for a lot of sacrifices, and only those who really give up their lives to Christ can qualify.