Cameroon, The Catholic Church in

views updated


A tropical, largely agricultural country located on the coast of West Africa, the Republic of Cameroon borders Chad on the north and northeast, the Central African Republic on the east, the Republic of the Congo on the southeast and south, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea on the south, the Gulf of Guinea on the southwest and Nigeria on the west. Coastal marshes rise to a central, forested plateau region, with active volcanic mountains in the west and a plains region to the north. Natural resources include bauxite, iron ore and petroleum, while agricultural products consist primarily of cocoa, coffee, bananas, peanuts and timber. Due to its location, Cameroon is sometimes referred to as "the hinge of Africa."

A German colony after 1844, the Cameroon region became a mandate territory administered by the French and British following World War I. From 1944 to 1960 the region became a trust territory of the United Nations; in 1960 the French trusteeship became an independent republic in the French Community and was joined by a portion of the southern British trusteeship the following year, which voted to unite with it. The Cameroon population is made up of some 200 ethnic groups. In addition to the dominant Bantus, there are settlers from Sudan and immigrants from neighboring Nigeria, Chad, Benin, Togo, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Burkina-Faso. Economic and social stability has allowed Cameroon to develop a strong infrastructure of roads and communications, although politically power continued to rest within a single ethnic group. Cameroon became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations in 1995.

Early History. The region, which was originally the home of the Bantu people, was largely uninhabited at the time that the Portuguese landed on its coast in 1472. A number of small African kingdoms had become established in the region by 1800, and in the mid-19th century German traders also appeared. Methodical evangelization began in 1890, when the area was detached from the Vicariate Apostolic of the Two Guineas, and the Prefecture Apostolic of Kamerun was created and entrusted to German Pallottines, following the establishment of a German protectorate in 1911. The northern section of the region was detached in 1914 to form the Prefecture Apostolic of Adamaoua, which was confided to the German province of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, but during World War I all missionaries, except French military chaplains, were expelled. In 1916 Anglo-French forces occupied the region, and following World War I Cameroon was divided into British and French mandatesa system devised by the U.N. as a way to deal with former German territories in preparation for their eventual independence.

After 1922 the Vicariate of Cameroun was staffed by French Holy Ghost Fathers. The Prefecture of Adamaoua was transferred to Foumban, and Sacred Heart Fathers from France replaced those from Germany. Mill Hill Missionaries took charge of evangelizing the British mandate territory, where in 1923 the Prefecture of Buea was created. Thereupon the mission experienced a rapid growth: from 60,000 in 1920, the region contained almost 700,000 Catholics by 1960. In 1931 the Vicariate of Cameroon was divided into the Vicariate of Yaoundé and Prefecture of Douala. In 1947 the Oblates of Mary Immaculate were given charge of the newly created Prefecture of Garoua in the extreme north with jurisdiction over some territory in Chad until 1956. In 1949 the Vicariate of Doumé was separated from Yaoundé and was given to the Holy Ghost Fathers. The hierarchy was established in 1955, when yaoundÉ became an archdiocese and metropolitan see for the entire country, and continued to be revised due to shifts in population. In 1935 the first African priests were ordained in Cameroon, and in 1955 the first African bishops were consecrated. Jean Baptiste Zoa became the first African archbishop of Yaoundé in 1961, and Christian Wiyghan Tumi became the first Cameroonian cardinal in 1988.

[j. bouchaud]

The Modern Era. On Jan. 1, 1960 French Cameroon was given full independence. A year later, on Oct. 1, 1961, it was joined by a portion of the British mandate territory, the remainder of the British mandate annexing to Nigeria. On May 20, 1972 these territories merged as the United Republic of Cameroon, ruled by a single party. Under the constitution of 1972, freedom of religion was

protected. After widespread unrest, under President Paul Biya, other parties were eventually legalized and in 1992 the first multi-party elections were held. After several elections held the same year, Biya and his party were reelected. Although charges of fraud were leveled against him, Biya continued as president into the 21st century.

While the reforms of Vatican II were slow in making an impact in Cameroon, after Pope John Paul II's first visit in August of 1985he returned in September of 1995the country's bishops began to emphasize the need for "Africanization." In 1989, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the Catholic presence in Cameroon, they issued the letter "From the First to the Second Evangelization," which stated its aim as "the implantation of the gospel in our manners and customs, namely at the incarnation of Jesus Christ thoroughly in our life." The 1994 African Synod, held in Rome, was a milestone on the way to that goal. The Cameroonian National Episcopal Conference (CNEC) met annually, and through communiqués addressed such matters as fairness in elections, lack of morality, the assassination of religious, harassment of parish houses, the importance of education and responsible parenthood The Catholic University of Central Africa, with its campuses at Nkolbisson and Yaoundé, was supervised by a council of bishops appointed by the Episcopal Conference of Central Africa, a group active in addressing human rights issues in the region.

Other evangelization efforts incorporated the pope's Africanization approach. Colonne de Feu, begun in 1976 by Pierre Gaby, a French layman, was popular in the Yaoundé area, as was Cana, which focused on college students. Most numerous were the Ephphata groups begun by Professor Meinrad Hebga, SJ, their success explained in part by the fact that they made a concerted effort at incorporating native languages and traditions in order to appeal to the African spirit. The Ephphata movement established a national ecumenical center for prayer, meditation and healing at Mangèn, a village 40 miles west of Yaoundé.

By the year 2000 Cameroon had 671 parishes, 660 diocesan and 480 religious priests, 200 brothers and

1,660 sisters, and had established several new seminaries by the late 1990s. The Catholic population lived predominately in the former French territories of southern and western Cameroon, while former English territories were predominately Protestant; Muslims congregated in the north. The Church continued to play a crucial role in education, and operated 910 primary and 110 secondary schools in 2000. There were eight Catholic hospitals, six of which were staffed by Ad Lucem and hundreds of Protection infantile et maternelle (PMI) dispensaries. In addition, the Church published a weekly newspaper that, until the mid-1990s, was the only private newspapers published in Cameroon.

Bibliography: conference episcopal nationale du cameroun, Assemblée plénière: de la première à la seconde évangelisation (Yaoundé 1992); Message of the Bishops of Cameroon for the Preparation of the Centenary (Yaoundé 1989). j. ela, Ma Foi d'Africain (Paris 1985). m. l. eteki-otabela, Misère et grandeur de la démocratie au Cameroun (Yaoundé 1987). m. hebga, Emancipation d'églises sous tutelle (Paris 1976); "Universality in Theology and Inculturation," Bulletin of African Theology, 5 (1983) 17992; "The Evolution of Catholicism in West Africa: The Case of Cameroon," in World Catholicism in Transition, ed. h. gannon (New York 1988) 32032. d. lantum, Recent Advances in the Healing Ministry of the Catholic Church in Cameroon (Yaoundé1984). e. mveng, L'Afrique dans l'eglise (Paris 1986). Bilan du Monde, 2:186193. Annuario Pontificio has statistics on all dioceses.

[m. hebga/eds.]

About this article

Cameroon, The Catholic Church in

Updated About content Print Article