Interviewed by John Neba and Ireneaus Chongwain Chia
Rev. Fr. Christopher Geh Kum is the Chaplain of the Catholic Women Association, St. Jude Apostolate and the Douala Archdiocesan Youth Movement. L’Effort Camerounais caught up with him to know more about these groups and what members can do to obtain maximum spiritual benefits from them, among other concerns.Excerpts:
It is an association of lay people in the Church who gather to assist in the reign of Christ in the universe. They assist in accomplishing the mission of the Gospel in the universe. As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, 12, we all have gifts and from the Sacrament of Baptism the Lay Faithful participates in advancing the reign of Christ in the Roman Catholic Church.
Why does the Church encourage the creation of associations and movements as Lay Christians are always encouraged to belong to many or at least one of such groups?
The Catholic Church encourages the creation of lay movements because the Lay person participates in the Church’s mission through these groups. The Church was founded so that by spreading Christ’s kingdom throughout the world; to the glory of God the Father, every man and woman may share in the saving works of redemption and through them the world may be directed towards Christ. Every activity of the mystical body of Christ, is called an apostolate which the Church exercises through her members.
You are a Chaplain of three major Church associations. From your observation, do you think the members of these associations respect the Church’s prescriptions in their groups?
If I say no, it means I am not doing my work. And if I say yes, it means that human beings are already perfect. They are trying by God’s grace to live these ideals. The decree on Lay People No. 24 says, says the hierarchy’s duty is to favour the lay apostolate, furnish it with principles and spiritual assistance, direct and exercise the apostolate to the common good of the Church, and see to it that the doctrine and other teachings are safeguarded. There are people who do not know the Church’s doctrine and so they join a Church group. From my observation many people are trying to respect the Church’s prescription to attain salvation. In some new movements and young people’s groups, it is usually a tug-of-war, but with mature groups like the Catholic Women Association and the St. Jude Apostolate, you find learned people who are eager to learn the Church’s doctrine and to keep it, but it is never easy as there are always issues that are not easy to handle.
Can you point out some of the problems that plaque Church groups and movements?
We are in Africa and we still have a lot of things to do to understand the glory of God in this world. As a chaplain for a long time, I have observed that there are many things plaguing these associations and movements. The first difficulty is money which has become the focus for many members. During meetings others points are handled within a short time, but when it comes to money matters discussions drag on for hours. Money therefore remain a very delicate issue in these groups.
The love of power is another problem and some members are bent on acquiring and keeping power and think very little of working for the Church. There are conflicts at several levels because some people join these groups for their selfish interests, like “njangis” and other mentalities that do not fall in line with the Church’s teachings. They try to impose their own way of life on the group. During meetings they do not say anything, but once a meeting ends, they start criticising and rejecting all the decisions that have been taken.
Some members are very lazy and inconsistent. They attend a meeting today and are absent tomorrow. Others do not have faith as they still consult native doctors and cherish traditional values and practices. Some are only interested in wearing uniforms, but when it is time to render account they are so confused as if it were the first time they ever heard reports were to be given. Some members find it very hard to meet up with their spiritual, moral and financial contributions. Others hide under the pretext that they are poor but it is actually because they do not have the will to meet these obligations. But truly some do not have. The world is sweeping away many people and others are only looking for miracles in these groups and when they do not find them, they leave. Others simply join Church groups because a friend encouraged them to do so and when that friend is no longer there their faith is gone. There is therefore still a lot to be done as people do not understand that when you join a Church group it is to sacrifice, to render service, and so increase and contribute to God’s mission in this world.
As a chaplain of several associations, what do you think members should do to ensure their spiritual growth?
They should listen to the Church’s Teachings and allow themselves to be formed. They should respect the dignity of the human person. If you get into any circle of life and you do not study the principles, doctrine and teachings of that circle or institution, at best, you are only going to be a spectator and at worst, a comedian. We find thousands of such people in Church associations and movements because they do not know what they come there for. If you ask them what the spirituality and bylaws of their groups are, they will not tell you. They are Catholics but they do not know the Church’s doctrine. This means they are not making the required effort to reinforce their faith. The Church therefore appoints a spiritual director to put in place activities that will help members to improve on their spiritual life, but when a programme of spiritual activities is proposed and it comes to implementing it, more than half of the members of these associations are never there. However, those who love the association are always there. So spiritual activities like retreats and recollections, conferences, integral formation, pilgrimages, night vigils and education talks, are very important and members of these associations and movements must participate in them. They must know and keep God’s Commandments for God so loved us that He gave His only Son who died to save us.
Father, must someone belong to a Church group or association to be a good Christian?
The Church does not oblige Christians to join Church groups. We only use the word “must” when it comes to documented truths which one must believe in or be seen and treated as a heretic or an anti-Christ. However, the Church does not force someone to join an association. The Church only encourages and proposes that Christians should join these groups because they help in nourishing their faith. There are many people who have joined Church groups and associations and their faith became weak or dwindled because of the influence of wicked people who misuse or abuse them. Others join groups and become a nuisance because they had hidden motives when they joined these groups. Some join Church groups because they need a husband, wife, a child or job and once they have them, they leave. People come to Church for different reasons, but in associations, there is always a spiritual foundation and if a member follows it carefully, his/her spiritual life will be nourished and your salvation will be assured. We are disappointed because there are Christians who are so excited joining Church groups that they do not take time to discern and therefore accept all invitations. They eventually find themselves in many Church groups and as a result they cannot be effective as they cannot live up to the commitments of all these groups. Christians should therefore ask themselves why they need to join an association, examine the group’s spirituality and not the people who are its members, and the bylaws governing these associations before joining them. If they follow these precepts carefully, they will be holy.
So, you are saying a Christian should belong to at least one Church group and not to many at a time.
That is right and they should not join these associations with hidden agendas. They should join them because they believe in God and want to edify their faith, to know Christ better, gain salvation and work for the Church.
What are the advantages belonging to a Church group?
When you join a Church association with the right motive you come into communion with God, you edify your faith, you bear testimony to a living Church in your community because Jesus says when two are three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst. When we gather to talk about the things of God, He is there. We are communing with Christ, celebrating the joyful mysteries of Christ and contemplating our faith on how to become better Christians through the testimonies of our brothers and sisters whose problems are sometimes worse than ours. Our testimonies may edify them too, who knows. So we share our sorrows and joy and become better and happier Christians. It is not easy living together, but when Christians remain in their groups despite the problems it means they are mature.
Father, from your experience, what advice do you have for leaders of Church associations or those who aspire to join them?
They should be guided by what St. Paul teaches in 1 Timothy chapter 3, which talks about Church leaders. A Church leader must be sober, holy, be someone who does not abuse alcohol, who is chaste and married only to one wife. They should be ready to listen and open their doors to those in need. St. Peter also says in 1 Peter chapter 5 that a Church leader should be careful and know the mysteries of Christ. First Peter Chapter 3 says a Church leader is not any kind of person, but a priest, king and prophet. Leaders of Church groups should allow themselves to be formed to know the Church’s doctrine because they cannot teach what they do not know. They should stop loving money and other things that do not give glory to God. They should be instructed by reading the scriptures because as leaders they are not any kind of people. They should practice only what Christ recommends. Church associations belong to the Church and are not private property. They should render service and be loyal to the Church’s hierarchy.