Anglophone crisis: Pope Francis begins walking the talk, commits to mediate peace process
Vatican’s secretary of state, His Eminence Pietro Cardinal Parolin has announced the readiness of the Holy Father and the Roman Catholic Church to mediate the peace process in Cameroon’s troubled North West and South West Regions.
By this very act, the Holy See has departed from the condemnations made by the international community for the last four years, to taking concrete action on the ground.
Upon arriving in Cameroon on January 28, 2021, Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin met H.E. Paul Biya, President of Cameroon the next day. Both men discussed the possibility of bringing reconciliation and peace to the restive minority Anglophone regions.
Accompanied by Msgr. Ivan Santus, the special emissary of His Holiness Pope Francis was the bearer of a message of reconciliation and peace for the people of Cameroon.
“I am here to manifest the attention and solidarity of Pope Francis towards Cameroon. What we are looking for is reconciliation and peace especially in this present situation of other crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cardinal Pietro Parolin said at the end of the one-hour audience.
While reassuring Paul Biya of the willingness of the Catholic Church and the Bishops of both regions to contribute towards achieving a lasting solution to the issues affecting the country, he indicated that they cordially discussed a wide range of issues including the socio-political situation in the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon.
He also stressed the importance of achieving peace; the only condition for the attainment of sustainable development in the country.
Later on Friday, Biya took to Twitter to announce that he had held a “cordial” conversation with the Vatican’s Secretary of State Parolin who “delivered a message of peace” from Pope Francis.
On Saturday, the pope’s envoy jetted into Bamenda to taste the reality on ground zero and celebrate mass for the imposition of the pallium on archbishop Andrew Nkea.
In his sermon at the Sunday Holy Mass, the Vatican’s top diplomat called for dialogue as “the best way to solve conflicts and misunderstandings”.
The Archdiocese of Bamenda is the metropolitan for the entire Anglophone North West and South West Regions of Cameroon.
The population of the two English-speaking regions make up about 20 percent of the country’s total and traditionally use a school system based on the Anglo-Saxon tradition as well as the common law legal system. The majority of the country is French-speaking.
In 2016, a protest by Anglophone lawyers and teachers over attempts to change the education and legal systems by the central government quickly degenerated into an armed rebellion with many English speakers demanding outright independence, with separatists declaring their new country was called “Ambazonia.”
The conflict has killed at least 3000 people and leftover 700,000 others displaced, according to the United Nations.
Mounting the rostrum at the St. Joseph’s Cathedral Big Mankon, Bamenda, the Secretary of state of the Holy See said the Holy Father is aware of all that is happening in Cameroon.
“I am well aware of the difficulties you have experienced in recent years and are still experiencing,” Parolin said.
“In the difficult situation in which you find yourselves living, you are experiencing up and close the power of evil that acts in the world. Unfortunately, there is more news of violence, divisions, and fratricidal struggles that afflict this beloved land,” the cardinal continued.
Parolin prayed that the Lord could console the suffering Anglophone population of Cameroon, “in particular those who have been victims of violence, or who have lost friends and loved ones in this crisis.”
“We are all responsible for peace. All the actors of society are responsible, from the smallest to the biggest person. No one can feel exonerated from the struggle against evil,” the cardinal continued.
“This is the challenge that faces you today, that finally, violence may be put down, and that peace and reconciliation may reign within us and around us. Violence never solves problems. It only creates more problems. Peace is a journey of hope, dialogue, and reconciliation,” Parolin said. “Dialogue, therefore, is the best way to solve conflicts, and misunderstandings,” the Pope’s emissary said.
Parolin was in Bamenda to bestow the pallium – the liturgical vestment of a metropolitan archbishop – on Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya, who was appointed to the archdiocese in December 2019.
The ecclesiastical province includes the dioceses of Buea, Kumba, Kumbo, and Mamfe.
During the Mass, Mgr. Nkea spoke of how the conflict has affected the people in Cameroon’s North West and South West regions.
In fact, the Mass was held within the context of boycott calls and a lockdown imposed by separatists.
“Many of our people have suffered a lot from a situation they did not create. And thousands are either internally displaced or have escaped as refugees. Businesses are shut down and for about four years, our children were not allowed to go to school. Children have been used as bait for political struggle,” the archbishop said.
“Many priests, religious, bishops, and laypeople of this province have been beaten, harassed, or even killed in this conflict. And yet, the Church continues to carry the Gospel message as a light of hope to a traumatized people,” he continued.
Nkea said that Parolin’s visit was a comforting presence for a traumatized people, noting that the Vatican envoy had stepped “on the soil of Bamenda that has drunk the blood of many of our children.”
“We in Bamenda can address ourselves in the Messianic words of the Prophet Isaiah; a people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who live in the land of deep shadow, a light has shone. You have made their joy increase. They rejoice in your presence as men rejoice at the harvest time, as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils,” the archbishop said.
“We are happy because, in this time of crisis, we see you as a messenger of peace. We see you as an ambassador of reconciliation. We see you as a promoter of justice. We see in you the presence of the Holy Father, Pope Francis himself among us,” Nkea said, to thunderous applause.
“Even when the Holy Father says nothing, his presence is a consoling presence. His blessings bring peace and his words come with an anointing on the wounds of those who are bleeding,” Nkea added.
“We are convinced that your coming to Bamenda will be like the rain that never falls without watering the ground. So too you will not leave us to continue fighting, but you will leave us as people who will start loving one another,” he concluded.
‘Bamenda has conquered fear’
Moved by the thousands who turned out for the mass despite the separatist threats, Archbishop Nkea said the devil had been conquered.
Hear Nkea: “Your Eminence, we the people of Bamenda, we lack many things. The one thing we don’t lack is faith. The presence here of the people of Bamenda in such great numbers is a sure sign that their faith is greater than politics. The faith of the people of the archdiocese of Bamenda is greater than intimidation. And their presence here is proof that the devil is a liar. With faith in God, trust in the power of the sacraments, and with gratitude to your person, your eminence, I invite you to kindly lead us in this Eucharistic celebration.”
Why Cardinal Parolin’s visit matters
The Roman Catholic Church has played a prominent role in these new forms of pro-peace action.
The Catholic Church has some specific features that differentiate it from other actors of civil society. Unlike the new “peacemaking professionals”, the Church has buttressed its action by a theological and ideological principle of subsidiarity conducive to popular mediation and peace-keeping initiatives.
Most of the parties to the conflict in Cameroon’s North West and South West Regions are either Roman Catholics or have great respect for the Catholic Church. President Paul Biya is an unrepentant Roman Catholic. He will listen to the church.
Activists like Eric Tataw also have great respect and reverence for the church and its leadership. He has had talks with Archbishop Nkea.
With both parties riding high horses since 2016, the mediator will be looking for acceptable solutions between the very different groups who have to find an interest in cooperating, while pursuing different aims and defending different interests.
The public authorities and activists both perceive the Church as an actor for the defence of peace and dialogue and as a negotiator on issues such as education, social services, public regulation of religion.
As such, the Holy Father and his envoy are walking on fertile ground.
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