Boston: A Cameroonian Priest Speaks of His Journey with Pope Benedict XVI 0

Revered Father Maurice Agbaw-Ebai became Mamfe Diocese first priest to obtain a PhD in Sacred Theology in Boston College, USA. A former student of St. Joseph’s Primary School in Mamfe town, Government Bilingual Secondary School and Government High School Mamfe in Manyu, Fr Maurice Agbaw-Ebai comes from a family of 8.

In this conversation with Cameroon Concord News Group he paid particular regards to the Bishop of the Mamfe Diocese, His Lordship Bishop Andrew Nkea, his family and friends for their support to him over the years on his journey towards priesthood.

Fr Maurice Agbaw-Ebai had served as Secretary to Bishop Emeritus Francis Lysinge and also moonlighted as Chancellor of the Mamfe Diocese and as our Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai commented occasions like this don’t happen that often in the life of a family.

Cameroon Concord News: Tell us about this today?

Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai: Today, May 18, 2019, is Commencement day for Boston College. In this context, I received today the Doctorate in Sacred Theology, with humble pride.

Cameroon Concord News: How did you come to this day?

Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai: Through the antecedent and consequent grace of God! It is a day that has been long in the making! My journey with Ratzinger/Benedict XVI began with my undergraduate theological studies at Hekima College, Jesuit School of Theology, Nairobi, Kenya. I could say that it has taken fourteen years to get to this day. I did my Licentiate in Theology on Ratzinger, specifically his Ecclesiology, that is, his theology of the Church. I found in Ratzinger a steady and sure compass for my own theological orientation. When my Bishop asked me to do a doctorate, it appeared naturally to me to continue along the theological path with Ratzinger.

Cameroon Concord News: What is the central question of your doctorate dissertation?

Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai:  I studied the philosophical framework thanks to which one can arrive at a deeper understanding of the Christological and the Ecclesiological underlining presuppositions and convictions of Joseph Ratzinger, especially in the light of post-modern secular reinterpretations of the figure of Jesus of Nazareth and the community called the Church.

Cameroon Concord News: Could you describe the main findings of your study?

Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai: Summarily, I found out that to understand Ratzinger’s Christo-Ecclesiology requires contextualizing Ratzinger in the hermeneutical framework of the Aufklärung, that is, the German Enlightenment, especially the figures of Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger. Of course, the starting point is Descartes’ Discourse on Method, which marks the beginning of modern philosophy, though of French origin. Then Kierkegaard too, of Danish origin, comes into the scene. I couldn’t convince my dissertation supervisor and dissertation committee members of the ratio-character of Kierkegaard as a proto-Ratzingerian, because they tended to see Kierkegaard as fideistic. But I hope to argue for the contrary in my post-doctoral work. These sentiments of the philosophical context of Ratzinger’s thoughts are captured in the topic of my doctoral thesis: The Aufklärung as the Hermeneutical Framework of the Christo-Ecclesiology of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.

Cameroon Concord News: We know your home diocese of Mamfe is really proud of you and this achievement….

Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai: After the defense of my doctoral thesis on April 25, 2019, I received a very generous email from my Bishop, Mgr. Andrew Nkea. He described what has happened as a milestone in my life and in the life of the Diocese of Mamfe. I felt that was very gracious. In addition, Fr. Marcel Sang, a priest of my diocese, was present for the defense. In him, I felt the support of the Presbyterium of my diocese. It was beautiful that he came all the way from Rome to be present at my defense. Fr. Edmund Ugochukwu too was present. He is a priest of Mamfe in spirit, even if juridically he belongs elsewhere. Mamfe Diocese to me is the fairest daughter of Zion. Everything is from her and everything leads to her.

Cameroon Concord News: What next for you Dr. Agbaw-Ebai?

Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai: (laughs) I really do not think I am comfortable with the title “Dr.” To me, the most esteemed title is that I am called “Fr.” Do you know even my mother calls me “Fr”! It is awesome. That means the world to me. And I think it is the same with all priests. To respond to your question: My bishop, Mgr. Andrew Nkea, has asked me to do another degree in Philosophy. I have to continue working on that. I have always been fascinated by atheism, especially in its theoretical form. If God does not exist, says the Russian Dostoevsky, then everything is possible! Even Nietzsche’s Übermensch is a logical consequence of the death of God.But what kind of a world results from the death of God? Even in Nietzsche, the reaction is ambivalent. After the Churches have become the sepulchers of God, what is left of the human being? What is left, even of God? What kind of God dies? The God of theodicy? The God of metaphysics? The God of religious dogma? Is it necessary for the God of theodicy to die in order for the God of religious experience who suffers and love to rise? Can God return? What is the possibility of the return of God? Can there be a dialectical and existential rapprochement between theism, atheism and anatheism? These are some of the questions that I am considering in my philosophy project. I know this might sound shocking to you: I turn to be deeply fascinated by the thought of atheism, by the promises that it offers. But don’t get me wrong! I believe in the God of Jesus Christ, even if with a small faith! Adauge nobis fidem, I turn to say to the Lord! And perhaps that small faith is enough for the Lord!

In addition, I have my job as a professor at Boston College. Recently, there is the discernment about me going as a visiting lecturer at St. Mary’s University, Minnesota, to teach a course on the major themes of Ratzinger’s theology. Then there is the work of the Benedict XVI Institute for Africa, which is planning two theological conferences this year, in Chicago in October, and at the Catholic University of Central Africa in Yaoundé, in November. Finally, with the permission of the Bishop of Mamfe, Boston is asking to administer a parish. I find this really interesting because it will be the first time that I will be a “resident pastor.” I have always been an assistant, in three parishes in Boston, at Newton, Medford and Georgetown. Now, I am being asked to move to another town. I hope I can help the community to deepen their friendship with Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. So, summarily, these are the things that will keep me busy and out of trouble (laughs), that is, working in the academia as a professor, while providing pastoral care to my new parish community. I count on your prayers.

Cameroon Concord News: Any last word?

Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai: Gratitude. Gratitude to God. Gratitude to my mother and family. Gratitude to Mamfe Diocese for all that I have become today. Gratitude to the priests of Mamfe. Gratitude to Bishop Lysinge, my first pastor and father. Gratitude to Bishop Andrew Nkea, who has done so much for me more than I could ever have imagined, especially given what he has asked me to do or permitted me to do.Gratitude to my seminary classmates. Gratitude to the parishes and peoples with whom I have worked and shared my life with here in the Archdiocese of Boston. Gratitude to Fr. Christian Mofor (RIP). I believe his legacy lives on. I am sure he must be very happy that I am finally doing a degree in philosophy. He always wanted that. And finally, gratitude to Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, for shaping my life in ways beyond all telling. Best wishes and God’s abundant blessings to the readers of Cameroon Concord News Group.

By John Tanyi Lebui