Head Oblate in Cameroon Talks Challenges and Advantages of Working in Africa
Fr. Raymond Pierre NANI has been leading the Province of Cameroon for two years now. Passing through France, he took the occasion to thank the French Oblates for the missionary work they have accomplished and which helped the Gospel to take root in African soil. Here are some excerpts from a conversation with Brother Bertrand EVELIN for “Omi-France.”
Bertrand: What are some pastoral challenges in Cameroon?
Raymond Pierre: The big challenge now is what I call “chameleon” Christians, split between being Christians and following the traditional religion, in a sort of syncretism. That is a challenge! Today, most people have received the Good News. But do they show it? The Year of Faith was an opportunity to ask the question: am I happy to be a Christian? Will I show it by my actions, by my whole life? That is it, as far as Christian life is concerned.
As far as structures are concerned, the parishes are “African,” in the hands of Oblates or African diocesan priests. The problem is in taking responsibility! There are difficulties, but the people are generous and they are helping us.
Finally, there is a challenge with Pentecostal or evangelical churches. Many churches are starting up and, under the pressure of illness and unemployment, many Catholics are tempted to go there. One of the responses that the Catholic Church is trying to give is what are called the basic ecclesial communities where people can meet more frequently than the simple Sunday gathering, to get to know one another, to share, to communicate, to be of service to one another.
Bertrand: What are some beautiful expressions of Christianity in Cameroon? What expression of beauty does becoming Christian produce in the lives of the people?
Raymond Pierre: For many Cameroonians, being a Christian is, first of all, knowing Jesus. And despite our weaknesses and limitations, that brings joy for living: one can see beyond this life with great hope. This is seen when a Christian dies. The Christians come together, they pray, they sing, they dance, they entrust the dead to God. We immediately see the difference with the traditional religion where death is experienced more as a drama. When someone dies, people throw themselves down; they say they’re gone, it’s over; there is distress; there are tears; sometimes they hurt themselves! That means that they are terrified. That’s the first thing. Outsiders tell us: “You Christians, when we see how you handle your grief, it shows that there is an afterlife because there is joy!”
Secondly, there are the large Sunday gatherings. When you see people who go to church on Sunday, all cleaned up, leaving everything behind, on time, with parents who bring their children, the whole family, just to hear the Word of God and, after the Mass, who still have time to stay and share because it is the Lord’s day, this is something very positive! People come together and show their joy at belonging to the Church.
The same for the sick: most cannot go to the hospital. So there are prayers in the families. We pray for whoever is ill, for whoever is suffering. We know that our plea is in the hands of God, the God of that Jesus Christ who showed us that we can intercede for our brother who suffers. In many families, that too shows the joy of belonging to the Church.
And today, when there are births in a family, the parents present their children for baptism. And for baptism, you know, it’s party time! It is a joy for the whole family, for the neighbors. They also invite even the non-Christians because our child has become a child of God: he is entering into the Christian community. So here we see that it’s not a show: this is joy; this is a new life that the child is receiving, and we celebrate it!
These are some examples that show nevertheless that the proclamation of the Word of God bears fruit in our lives by the way we live.