By Boris Esono Nwenfor
The St. Mary’s Catholic Nchang Parish in the Diocese of Mamfe was attacked by dozens of unknown gunmen on September 16, with reports linking the attackers being those related to the separatist sect operating in the area. The abductees have not yet been released and their whereabouts are unknown.
The Catholic Bishops of the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province indicated that nine people, including five priests and a nun, have been kidnapped. According to Radio Evangelium of Mamfe Diocese, the nine abductees also include a catechist, a female cook, and a teenager living with the sisters. After the news broke out, the local ordinary, Bishop Aloysius Fondong Abangalo, rushed to the site to take away the Blessed Sacrament and the Crucifix in the church.
“For the time being, we do not know where they have taken refuge with the clergymen, but searches have been launched by the army to free the hostages. The separatists are blaming the church for holding a mass last Sunday when they had imposed a dead town operation,” Tabenchong Robertson Ashu, Mayor of Mamfe, told Anadolu Agency.
This recent attack comes a few days after the disrupted start of the school year in the English-speaking regions. Sporadic attacks have been reported in several localities in the North West and South West Regions. Faced with the deteriorating situation, President Paul Biya has ordered the deployment of special forces in these regions plagued by separatism, Journal du Cameroun reported.
Catholic Bishops condemned the heinous act
In a statement, the Bishops of the Bamenda Provincial Episcopal Conference (BAPEC) express “shock and utter horror” at what they term an unprecedented “heinous attack against the house of God and the Messengers of God” and call for the immediate release of those abducted.
“A wave of persecution against the hierarchy of the church is now the new game of the ‘Struggle’, and all kinds of threat messages are sent out against Missionaries who have surrendered their lives to work for the people,” the bishops said in a statement.
“While we pray for protection, we also pray through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace, that peace may return to our Ecclesiastical Province and that a lasting solution may be reached to this problem.”
Reverend Father Humphrey Tatah Mbui is director of communications at the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon’s Catholic Bishops. He says it is unfortunate for fighters to abduct Catholic clergy and committed Christians, whose mission is to preach peace and make the world a better place to live in.
“They carried them off, saying that the church has not been respecting gunmen. We all know that the Catholic Church in particular has always been for justice and peace. The church is neutral. No one has a right to target men and women of God. That is why the bishops wrote a letter to all the Christians, decrying these kidnappings and asking the Christians to pray for them [abducted clergy].”
The bishops have thus called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict that has had untold sufferings on the population with the church not being left out. They said: “If there are issues affecting our nation we should sit together and discuss it. We should not be killing people, harassing people and destroying property.”
The six-year violence in the North West and South West Regions has taken a heavy toll on the civilian populations in the Northwest and Southwest regions, with attacks against schools, extrajudicial killings, kidnappings and a general sense of insecurity forcing millions of Cameroonians to flee to neighbouring countries.