Bishop Jean Marie Benoît Balla of Bafia, Cameroon, was “brutally murdered,” the country’s bishops have confirmed, making him the latest in a number of Cameroonian bishops, clergy and consecrated persons to have been killed over the past 30 years.
In a June 13 statement issued by Cameroon’s episcopal conference and published by the missionary news agency Fides, the bishops called for justice to be done in the face of what they called “obscure diabolical forces.”
They said they were “convinced” that Bishop Balla did not commit suicide as had been initially thought, but that “he was brutally murdered.”
Bishop Balla was just 58 years-old and would have celebrated 30 years as a priest next year.
Fishermen discovered the prelate's body in the River Sanaga, June 2, a few miles away from where his abandoned car was found on a bridge on May 31. Inside the vehicle was a “strange message” together with some personal belongings.
“The body is now at the disposal of the authorities investigating the case to discover the causes and the perpetrators of this hateful, unacceptable crime,” the bishops stated, adding that his tragic death “shocked and upset the People of God, all Cameroonians and international opinion.”
“This is one more murder, and one too many,” the bishops added.
They pointed out “the sad list of bishops, members of the clergy and consecrated persons assassinated in circumstances still not clear today.” In particular, they remembered “Mons. Yves Plumey, archbishop emeritus of Garoua (assassinated in Ngaoundéré – 1991), Fr Joseph Mbassi (Yaoundé - 1988), Fr. Antony Fontegh (Kumbo-1990), Sisters in Djoum (1992), Fr. Engelbert Mveng (Yaoundé – 1995), to mention only a few”.
“We have the impression that the clergy of Cameroon in particular is pursued by obscure diabolical forces,” the Cameroonian bishops declared.
They called in their statement for “complete light to be shed on the circumstances and the motivation of the murder of Bishop Balla,” and demanded that “those responsible be identified and handed over to justice to be judged by the law of the land.”
They also urged the government “to assume the noble task of protecting human life,” and asked the media and all who use social media “to renounce defamation, lies, and calumny and to respect the dignity of human persons.”
The bishops appealed to Bishop Balla’s assailants “to strive for urgent and radical conversion,” and encouraged the faithful to “stay courageous” as “Christ has conquered the world.”
“Your pastors carry with you the pain of this sad disappearance. Let not your faith fail. Draw the necessary strength from celebration of the Eucharist,” they said, and reminded them that the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Patroness of Cameroon, “accompanies us in this hard trial.”