AFRICA-MADAGASCARThe crimes of Boko Haram
Fr. Raymond Pierre NANI is originally from North Cameroon. He grew up in the little town of Salak, at the foot of Mount Mandara, some 15 km from Maroua. Currently he is in France to study missiology and Islam; he recently completed a term as provincial of the OMI in Cameroon. Prior to that, he was at the prenovitiate in Mokolo, on the border with Nigeria. Here he speaks about the situation that has arisen because of violence by the Islamic sect Boko Haram in this part of Cameroon. (In Audacieux pour l’Évangile, April 2015)
How are the people living day to day in this situation caused by the violence of Boko Haram?
In the mountains, the villages that are close to the border are under the protection of the army; that gives them a bit of courage. Elsewhere, others had to leave to come to Mokolo where they have relatives. But they live in fear because they cannot move about freely, especially to go into their fields. And for the peasants, without their field, they are nothing! They are farmers with small fields. They live day and night in fear. What reassures them is the presence of the army. If there were no army, we cannot imagine how they would live!
In some villages, the army asked people to go, leaving only the military in order to identify better the enemy. Near Kolofata, people have hardly planted since it is not safe to have grass that could impede visibility growing in fields. Activity is slowing down. People hope that this will end one day but for now, it is really difficult. How can they survive if people do not cultivate the fields? This creates untold suffering. Tomorrow, what is going to happen with the shortage of millet, peanuts and beans? When the border was open, people improved their lives through Nigeria because everything was sold there!
What is the Church’s position in this crisis?
The arrival of exiles in Maroua created a shortage of staff. The diocesan clergy is forced to reorganize, but it's complicated. Some areas are inaccessible. Even motorcycles are prohibited. I think too about the two priests of Tokombéré. To go to celebrate, they must be accompanied by the military! For our simple mountain people who are afraid of a policeman on the road, you can imagine when they see the priest arriving with the military...!
For the feast of Christmas at Maroua, we were asked to anticipate the Midnight Mass. And can you imagine? At St. John, to get into the church, it was necessary to have police checking each person like they do at airports; this was astonishing for the people. They had never seen anything like it.
The Church is there; it’s not crossing its arms. In some places like Kolofata or Nguétchéwé, people are there, but they are afraid that some suicide bombers from Boko Haram will arrive. That’s how the Church is facing the departure of many missionaries. The missions are disrupted. What is there to do so as to continue supporting Christian communities? I see that the diocese suffering in this regard.
To this must be added the influx of Nigerian refugees. First they were settled in Catholic schools. Who could help these people, be sensitive to their situation? It took the local Church, the Diocesan Development Committee, to launch an international aid program. Initially, 300 or 400 people arrived. It was necessary to feed them before the CHR arrived. And now there are thousands and the CHR is there; the Church continues to help.
And what about the Oblates?
Thank God, the Oblates no longer have a major presence in the Far North. We do have two parishes and a prenovitiate in Mokolo and a hospitality house and parish in Maroua. At Mokolo, movement is restricted. If they go to Maroua and if they want to take the bus back to Mokolo, after a certain hour, the buses no longer go into the city! It is difficult but they are managing! They have not said: we're leaving! They do their duties, they celebrate Mass, they go to the different sectors, they get together to share. I admire their courage; they are apostolic men. The Christians are there as well as the priests, although they are foreigners (Nigerians), like the diocesan priests! They carry on their ministry as if nothing had happened and that gives comfort to the Christian communities of the parish.
Has this situation had an impact on relations between Christians and Muslims?
I believe that it has not damaged the relationship that existed between Christians and Muslims, on the contrary! Boko Haram attacks both Muslims and Christians! Everyone is in the same situation. Both suffer the same way! This then gives us great understanding in our dialogue. Everyone ensures the security of the other. Whether Christians or Muslims, they saw the need to unite against this enemy they did not know. So between Christians and Muslims, one senses this sharing, this dialogue.
Lent, a time of prayer, penance and sharing. Each individual lives it according to his spirituality, each group according to its charism and each parish according to its organization. Served by the Oblates since its creation in 1994, Christ Good Shepherd Parish in Gari-Gombo used to live Lent like any other time in the liturgical calendar of the Church. But Lent this year, 2015, had a quite different appeal; it was a very positive appeal as it aimed at bringing the faithful to live Lent differently. It was a Lent that was organized and planned by the solidly united pastoral team of Father Alojzy CHRÓSZCZ (pastor), Bro. Basil OBIEJE (scholastic in regency) and the Franciscan Sisters of the community of the Sacred Heart Missionaries (composed of three sisters).
For living a better Lent this year, the youth had, from their first meeting of the year, scheduled a pilgrimage for Lent. While the idea of pilgrimage was encouraged by the Brother, it was adopted by all the youth, approved by the pastor and lived by the whole parish.
On Friday, 13 March, the day of gathering the pilgrims in the parish, there were only 30 pilgrims registered! This figure already exceeded the number 20 originally forecast; so it was already worrisome.
Saturday, 14 March, a departure Mass began at 6:00, presided by the parish priest. Before the end of the Mass, we had 60 pilgrims (one could not send anyone away). There were youth, nursing mothers, fathers and even the elderly, over 60 years old. At 7:30, Father gave the departure blessing and the pilgrims, supervised by Brother Basil and Sister Renée Manka Mbida, took to the road. Throughout the walk, a series of talks and the Way of the Cross were provided by Brother Basil; different types of rosaries (rosary of the Virgin Mary, rosary of the Holy Spirit, Divine Mercy, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, etc.) were led by the Sister, and songs were led by the youth.
At the beginning, the weather was favorable and sunlight pierced the fog to be reflected in the glistening leaves. But after 8 km of walking in the forest where there was no sign of human habitation, we were soaked by heavy rain for more than two hours. At first, this bad weather was considered a misfortune, but as it watered the ground, we realized that the rain was needed so that we could go across the 22 km of hills ahead of us. After walking 7 km, we observed a 15-minute break and the rest of the walk was done without pause because of rain. But we still got to our destination (the chapels of Ndeng) at 15:37, after a walk of 8 hours.
We were welcomed and even sheltered by Protestants. Muslims who were able to approach us greatly encouraged us also. In the evening, at 18:00, there was a talk by Sister Gisele Bella (superior of the community of Franciscan Sisters) who had joined us at Ndeng-SFIL by car with the pastor. After a talk about the benefits of the pilgrimage, a dinner was offered.
It was a joyful pilgrimage but also a very difficult one because it was the first experience of such a distance anywhere in the diocese of Yokadouma. (Sch. Bro. Basil Ebubechukwu OBIEJE, in http://www.omicameroun.com/)