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Cameroonian seminarians join diocesan ranks

Zoey Maraist
Catholic Herald Staff Writer

Father Ghenghan B. Mbinkar, a Cameroonian priest from the Diocese of Kumbo, has been living in the Arlington diocese since 2014. As with other priests from around the world, Father Mbinkar came to the Washington area to study, and found a home in Northern Virginia. While working toward a doctorate in canon law at The Catholic University of America in Washington, he’s also serving as chaplain for local Cameroonian Catholics who worship each month at St. Mark Church in Vienna. Now, two more Cameroonians are joining him stateside.

camaroonian-seminarians-thumbnail.pngThis fall, the Arlington diocese welcomed 11 new seminarians, including two from Cameroon: Christian Nyuykonge and John Fimmuchime. “This is really an exciting experience,” said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, announcing the news on his “Walk Humbly Podcast” last month. Kumbo Bishop George Nkuo and Bishop Burbidge agreed that Arlington would sponsor two Cameroonian seminarians for their last four years of seminary formation. After their ordination, the men will serve for four years in the Arlington diocese before returning home.

Both Nyuykonge and Fimmuchime, who are studying at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., were surprised when they learned they’d be leaving Cameroon for the U.S.. “It was (scary) to me because I hadn’t been in the U.S. before and had no clue (about) the culture here,” said Nyuykonge. “But I remember vividly that I told (my bishop) through the phone that evening that if that was the will of God and will of the church for me at this time, I (would) be happy to obey it.”

The Diocese of Kumbo and Cameroon in general is suffering in many ways, said Father Mbinkar. Cameroon is in the midst of a civil war between the ruling French-speaking majority and the English-speaking minority. Kumbo is in the English-speaking region, and has been greatly impacted. “It’s the area that is hardest hit because being in the remote area, the rural area, that’s where the fighters all hide so the soldiers come in their armored cars and spray bullets everywhere,” he said. “The church is the only source of hope for the people now with the help of other organizations that send aid to displaced people.”

People are often caught in the middle between the two warring factions, Nyuykonge said. “People in the diocese are in a dilemma because if you associate with the military, the separatist fighters will consider you as a traitor and your life is at risk. And if you happen to cooperate with the separatist fighters, the military will consider you a traitor and the result for both camps will be the taking away of life,” he said.

Ministry is very difficult, said Fimmuchime. “Many parishes are inaccessible because of the road blockages and the presence of many control posts both of the separatist fighters and the Cameroon military,” he said. “Priests cover long distances, trekking from one mission church to another. One of the greatest aspects of pastoral ministry now is feeding the internally displaced. Most of these people who have been rendered homeless find refuge in the (diocesan) Pastoral Centre and the bishop works daily for their upkeep.”

The political instability also has led to great danger. “Priests, seminarians, religious and even the lay faithful are frequently being kidnapped and huge sums of money are demanded by the separatist fighters before they are released. I was a one-time victim,” said Fimmuchime. “My bishop was asked to pay a sum of 450,000 francs. I was fortunate to escape, and the money was not paid although my books and (clothes) remained with them.”

Though life is difficult in Cameroon, Nyuykonge said he misses his family and seminary classmates, and the traditional dish fufu corn and huckleberry. But he’s excited to become a priest. “I also look forward to being a happy priest, serving wherever I am called to serve by the bishop and being able to bring the joy I have always longed for to the people I will minister to,” he said.

Fimmuchime echoed that willingness to serve and requested prayers for the people of Cameroon. “I wish that the Diocese of Arlington should join the Diocese of Kumbo in saying the prayer for peace by St. Francis of Assisi. This prayer is said every day in all mission churches in the Diocese of Kumbo after Mass,” he said. “I wish that Masses be said for the innocent souls lost throughout these five years and for the families displaced.”

Zoey Maraist
Catholic Herald Staff Writer