Cameroon’s Catholic Vocation Harvest
The ordination of five men to the priesthood and six to the transitional diaconate for the Diocese of Obala highlights the spiritual treasures of the West African country.
MBANJOCK, Cameroon — A year of formation has just been completed in Cameroon — 12 months marked by a great and rich harvest of vocations, with many ordinations taking place in various dioceses across the country.
The trend reflects the vibrant and growing faith on the African continent. The numbers are particularly impressive in Cameroon, a country in western Africa where 38% of the 25 million people profess the Catholic faith. On July 10, at Our Lady of Farms in Mbanjock in the Diocese of Obala, 11 young men were ordained — six of them to the transitional diaconate and five to the priesthood.
The five-hour Eucharistic celebration was officiated by Bishop Damase Zinga Atangana, the visiting ordinary of the Diocese of Kribi, in the presence of Bishop Sosthène Léopold Bayemi Matjei of Obala. Hundreds of priests, seminarians, religious men and women, and lay faithful from all corners of the diocese and beyond thronged to the ordination Mass.
In his homily, Bishop Atangana called on the candidates to be exemplars of the faith. Drawing on the Gospel of St. John, he invited them to flee the temptations of this world and remember that they are in the world but not of the world; not to be ministers in search of riches who go around looking for material wealth; and not to be lonely ministers because the Lord has much for them to do. He called on them to be docile because bishops need docile priests, not rebels, men who are faithful to their canonical vows and who live in fraternity.
Quoting Pope Francis, Bishop Atangana warned against becoming an inhuman priest who is of no use and concluded by calling on the candidates to be holy men because one holy priest is worth more than a thousand bad priests.
“The Church needs holy priests,” Bishop Atangana said. “It’s not the quantity that matters, but the quality.”
The bishop told the Register afterward, “We want priests to be saints because the Church wants them to be saints like Christ; that is what Christ teaches: Let them be models of Christ and pray for God’s people.”
The joy of the ordination Mass spilled over at the reception afterward, which was held on the parish premises.
Although young, the Catholic Church in Africa, and that of Cameroon in particular, is vibrant and gives hope to the universal Church. The fruits of that faith are reflected in the growing number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life, while those numbers in the West are declining. As Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea, the former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has said, “For her part, the Church that is in Africa can humbly offer the West the marvels that God has worked in her through the Holy Spirit and the tribulations that Jesus continues to endure in the sufferings and material needs of his faithful there.”
Africa seems to be the source of hope for the Church because, as St. John Mary Vianney said, a priest belongs not to himself but to universal Church and to every Christian.
Newly ordained Father Stephen Ewane Shadze of the Archdiocese of Bamenda told the Register he grew up with dreams of becoming a professional soccer player. But God had other plans.
“As I was finishing elementary school, I was told there was a school just for boys where I could play all the football I wanted. It was also the minor seminary. I entered and discovered that there was more to it, and at the end I discovered God had called me not to be a soccer team player but to offer myself to the service of God’s people.”
The greatest challenge facing these young men who have discerned a call to the priesthood, even coming from poor backgrounds in order to be rich in Christ, is finding support to go through at least a decade or more of formation before being ordained. Because of their poverty, some of them need someone with the material means to sponsor them in seminary.
Mrs. Flora, a member of the Catholic Women’s Association of Cameroon, told the Register, “It is with great emotion that I am assisting at the ordination of these, our children. Seeing them give their lives for the service of Christ leaves me with tears of joy. These young children as they are could have gone into different professions, to look for money, but here they are abandoning everything for the sake of the Gospel. The joy in me as a Catholic woman is immense.”
The Lord’s solemn call in Luke 10:2 — “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest” — is being heeded throughout Cameroon.
At St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in Bambui, Cameroon’s only English-speaking theological seminary and one of five theological institutes in the country, at least 150 seminarians coming from various dioceses go through formation each year.
Newly ordained Deacon Laurence Doh told the Register that he was first drawn to the priesthood when he was 7, but when his father died, that derailed his plans.
“I eventually became a barber, photographer and businessman, but never found happiness in these things,” he said. “God opened the door for me, and I resumed my education, which led me to where I am today.”
“Thanks be to God. We should never give up in life, no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in,” Deacon Doh said. “With faith, God makes it possible. This is a memorable day for me today.”
Many at the post-Mass reception echoed the deacon’s sentiment of thanks for the vocations boom in Cameroon — something worthy of praise to God.
“It’s time to thank God for the gift of vocations in Cameroon,” layman Deudonne Bongban told the Register. “We need priests, and it’s thanks to families and the Christian education these young men received in their family homes that we are gathered here today to witness their consecration. This is also a fruit of the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Africa, issued in Cameroon in 1995 by Pope St. John Paul II during his apostolic visit.”
Emmanuel Patrick Ayuni Tan is a Cameroonian businessman from Kumbo in northwest Cameroon. He writes from the country’s capital, Yaounde. He has a degree in philosophy, a diploma in project management, and completed a year of theological studies at St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary in Bambui. He is a volunteer in the youth group in his parish.