Cameroon Buries Cardinal Christian Tumi — A Man of Justice and Humanity

Cardinal Tumi was a man of justice, a man of faith, a man who was hardly concerned about material things with no bank account of his own.

Prelates, priests, and families in Cameroon gather at the funeral for Cardinal Christian Wigyhan Tumi April 20, 2021
Prelates, priests, and families in Cameroon gather at the funeral for Cardinal Christian Wigyhan Tumi April 20, 2021 (photo: Courtesy photo / Emmanuel Patrick Ayuni Tan)

DOUALA, Cameroon — Thousands of Christians and non-Christians as well as cardinals, bishops, priests, civil and political leaders and families from across Cameroon gathered April 20 on the esplanade of Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Douala to bid farewell to Cardinal Christian Wigyhan Tumi.

A great defender of justice and humanity who passed away on Good Friday, April 2, at the age of 90, the cardinal’s journey home began on April 19 with the removal of his body from a military hospital mortuary followed by an all-night wake at the cathedral.

In his homily during the Pontifical Requiem Mass, Archbishop Julio Murat, apostolic nuncio to Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, said although Cardinal Tumi had left the world to meet his Father in Heaven and to enjoy everlasting union with God given by Christ, he will “join the heavenly host to pray for peace to return in Cameroon.” 

The cardinal, who was widely respected across Africa for his tireless peace-making efforts and promotion of human rights, was decorated as a true patriot and great son of the Republic of Cameroon with the posthumous honor of Commander of the Order of Valor — one of the country’s highest honors awarded for outstanding service to the state. 

The Order of Valor
The Order of Valor

Five other tributes were paid before the final commendation at the requiem Mass celebrated by Cardinal Philippe Ouédraogo of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) — of which Cardinal Tumi once served as president.

The tributes, which came from Cameroonian and Congolese prelates who knew him well, included Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala whom Cardinal Tumi regarded as a ‘son.’ He formed him as a seminarian, ordained him as priest, bishop, and Archbishop Kleda succeeded him as archbishop of Douala. 

In their speeches, they each testified to the cardinal’s immense work in the Muslim-majority region and they had almost the same message: Cardinal Tumi was a man of justice, a man of faith, a man who was hardly concerned about material things and who didn’t have a bank account of his own. 

Funeral of Cardinal Christian Wigyhan Tumi.
Funeral of Cardinal Christian Wigyhan Tumi.

They described him as a man of truth who constantly strove to see his country, and Africa in general, live in peace — work which earned him the Nelson Mandela Memorial prize in 2019. They also remembered him as a man full of humanity, a man of prayer, a man convinced of his vocation, a man full of humanity, full of humor — an untiring pastor who, even with the burden of age, never stopped taking part in episcopal meetings and other gatherings. 

As Pope Francis said in his condolence message: “Cardinal Tumi left an unforgettable mark on the Church as well as on the social and political life of his country, always committing himself courageously to the defense of democracy and the promotion of human rights. In later years, he was always available to serve peace and reconciliation.” 

After the final commendation by Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa, at exactly 1:50pm the simple wooden coffin, reminiscent of Pope St. John Paul II’s and depicting the simplicity of a pastor, was lowered into the cathedral sepulcher. 

Refreshments immediately followed accompanied by dancing from some cultural groups. A life well lived merits celebration more than mourning. The grave of the just dwells in the heart of the living.

As a native Cameroonian, what can I say of this noble man? It’s not really possible to describe such a life in a few lines, but he was a great spiritual leader and a real pastor who’ll always be remembered. One may be tempted to see him as a living saint, idolized as someone free of any weaknesses. Of course he had those, but his weaknesses never overshadowed his strengths. 

Born in a remote area of Cameroon on Nov. 15, 1930, Christian Wigyhan Tumi was ordained a priest in 1966, consecrated bishop in 1980, appointed coadjutor archbishop in 1982, and elevated to cardinal in 1988. He was appointed Archbishop of Douala in 1991 and retired in 2009. 

A man who fought for his country’s independence and for the reunification of the country, he stood for the respect of democracy, human dignity, peace, unity, and reconciliation of the country. Even during the current Anglophone Crisis, he fought indefatigably even when he was kidnapped last November by separatist fighters and detained for four days. He never changed his mind, never gave into fear, but rather told them his mind. 

Cardinal Tumi suffered plenty of intimidation and was accused of taking sides, but his words continued to be those of dialogue, peace, and respect for human life. 

He can never be replaced. 

He stands as a true emblem and true disciple of Christ. He will be forever missed by the Catholic Church and the nation in general, leaving a vacuum that can never be filled. 

Cardinal Tumi in Some of His Own Words:

‘’That the government suspects me of being on your side (the armed group) has no importance to me; and that you think that I support the government, that is not my concern either. I am a pastor and I defend peace in the country which belongs to us all.”(My Night in Captivity, p67).

“Peace is absent from the heart, and all the people live in a deep malaise. It is necessary that those who govern us have the courage to accept criticism and to study the situation and dialogue with all.”

‘You cannot choose in the practice of virtues. The fundamental moral principle is to always do good and always avoid what is evil. That covers all other moral principles. There is no other way to choose. People should also be intellectually honest. Intellectual honesty means what you say should agree with what you have in mind. If what you say is not what you think, then you are intellectually dishonest”.

Tributes to Cardinal Tumi Shared with the Register

“He Lifted Us Up”

His legacy is extensive. When he came to Douala, the archdiocese had financial difficulties. He took measures to overhaul the financial situation and improve the spiritual life of Christians. He always told us that if the spiritual life of Christians is organized and the people are convinced that you are preaching the good news and live a prayerful life, the rest will follow. His pastoral mission was focused first and foremost on the spiritual life of priests and Christians, and to that end he paid weekly pastoral visits to parishes to reinforce their faith and that of the faithful. He trained me to be more useful to the Church and the community. He was intelligent, devoted, indefatigable and not into worldly things. He taught us that truth will set us free, that we should always speak the truth with conviction even if it hurts. We are mourning a great pastor and we will never forget him

—Father Dieudonne Bayemeg, vicar general of Archdiocese of Douala

"A Charismatic Leader"

We met officially during the great national dialogue when he was president of the commission for disarmament. I was his deputy and I had the opportunity to meet someone full of commitment, unreserved courage — a dreamer of a free Africa. I consider him more than a spiritual guide: we, the living, have the grace to continue the struggle, the struggle  of reconciliation, the fight for equal opportunity and the welfare for all.

—Cabral Libii, parliamentarian and leader of the PCRN political party

“A Man of Great Faith”

 We thank Cardinal Tumi for his life. He impacted the Church by his life and works through examples. He was for us a grandfather and a father of faith for the Catholic Church that is in Cameroon. He formed many priests as a rector and teacher of St Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary Bambui, He created many schools and hospitals that he leaves as an icon of faith. For us bishops, the cardinal was to us a good reference. He always encouraged us young bishops to remain faithful to the teachings of Christ. He showed the courage of the Gospel and solidarity with all people.

—Archbishop Andrew Nkea of Bamenda

Archbishop Andrew Nkea of Bamenda
Archbishop Andrew Nkea of Bamenda

“A Great Man”

The Cardinal was a great man. He worked for peace for the people. He loved everyone. He brought everyone together. Today we mourn him because he’s left us and because we need peace. Arms should be put down, no war anymore, because enough blood has been shed. We are one people, drop your guns we want peace, many lives have been lost. Today His Eminence has gone, before his death he was even kidnapped, but by the grace of God may the peace he so greatly wished for, be achieved in Cameroon.

—Elderly Protestant Christian

“My Consecrator”

Cardinal Tumi is for me a father, my consecrator. He came and consecrated me as the Archbishop of Lome almost exactly 14 years ago, on Aug. 15, 2007. I knew him before and asked him if he could come and ordain me. He accepted, asked for the program, and came. As a sign of respect, I came for his burial. I’m the only Bishop from Togo to be here just as a sign of recognition. He knows I came and he’s happy. It’s just a matter of paying my respects. I could not be absent from his funeral since I had no opportunity to visit him. May he intercede for all of us to bring peace to societies in Cameroon and Africa.” 

—Archbishop Denis Komivi, emeritus archbishop of Lome, Togo

“A True Prophet”

The passing away of the cardinal is a very sad thing. We would have loved him to live for longer because his mission is not yet complete, though he used to say: ‘As long as you have not finished your work on earth, you keep roaming around, and then the day you finish your work, God calls you by death.’ I didn’t personally know him but he’s a man I greatly admire through his messages of peace and love that we will pass on to our children. That is why I came here: to pay him my last homage. Since last night I kept the wake.” 

—Mireille, Catholic medical doctor

“A Man Full of Humor”

I had the privilege of meeting him on several occasions. He was a very intelligent man. Before you told him anything, you had to calculate and measure what you wanted to say before you said it. He hardly forgot anything and had a very retentive memory. An outstanding thing about him was that he welcomed everyone to his office. To Muslims he was very open and he touched the lives of many, not only Catholic Christians. He had a great sense of humor. Once, when travelling to Rome, I didn’t know he was on the plane and he came to sit where I was and told a lot of stories until we landed. I learned from him. He was a courageous man, a man of truth, a simple and humble man. We’ll greatly miss him.” 

—Sr. Mary Assumpta, H.H.C.J.


“A Great Gift to the Church”   

I want to thank the cardinal so much for he sacrificed his life for our well-being in Cameroon and Africa. We thank God for this gift and we have to continue this fight for the values, for the Gospel, for the new Cameroon and a new society. The cardinal will be for us a light to enlighten our new search, our new standard of life.”  

—Archbishop Jean Mbarga of Yaounde

Archbishop of Yaounde
Archbishop of Yaounde

Emmanuel Patrick Ayuni Tan is a Cameroonian businessman living in the country’s capital, Yaoundé. He has a degree in philosophy, completed a year of theological studies at St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in Bambui and is a member of a youth volunteer group in his local parish.