25, January 2019
Bishop Michael Bibi, Auxiliary Bishop of Bamenda, Cameroon, visited Portsmouth and celebrated Mass on Sunday 20 January at St John’s Cathedral in a break during a visit to Rome.
Portsmouth and Bamenda dioceses have been twinned since 1974. Ten Portsmouth priests have served in Cameroon; four priests from Bamenda are currently working in the Portsmouth diocese. Financial help to Bamenda has helped a Pastoral Centre for training cathechists and running spiritual courses; social welfare projects have helped with water supply and provided material enabling people to earn a living; a motorbike was supplied for a rural health worker.
Catholic schools in Portsmouth diocese are encouraged to twin with schools in Cameroon. Bamenda is a major centre in the English speaking region of Cameroon whose schools and legal system have been disadvantaged by the government dominated by French speakers tending to impose the use of French. A majority of the region’s population support a separatist movement which has engaged in acts of violence including recently the deaths of two priests and a seminarian. Some counter terrorist activity by security forces has led to civilian deaths.
There have been kidnappings of school children, not just Catholics but also from a Presbyterian school. Bishop Bibi himself was kidnapped and released on two consecutive days in early December while driving from town to town on church business. The President of Cameroon Paul Biya, aged 85, has been in power since 1982 and shows no sign of standing down.
The country suffers from terrorism by Boko Haram, a group connected with Al Qaeda, the need to back the government’s efforts to combat which seems a priority for help from the UK although some assistance is given to displaced people.
Bishop Michael said the atmosphere in Bamenda alternates between normality and tension. Sometimes there are road blocks. Mondays in the English speaking region are the days for “ghost towns” when many people observe a general strike; more extreme separatists threaten violence against those who do not take part. Some homes have been burnt down.
To help those in need the Bamenda archdiocese has encouraged parishes to set up Ad Hoc Committees. The Bishop of Portsmouth, Philip Egan urges all to help by contributing to the Diocese of Portsmouth Bamenda Commission.
Source: Independent Catholic News