1. Kidnapped Seminarian Tells His Story


By Agnes Aineah

Bamenda, 19 September, 2022 / 8:40 pm (ACI Africa).

With militants wreaking havoc on populations in the Northwest and Southwest English-speaking regions of Cameroon, Nobel Chimenyi’s most immediate fear is not being alive to see his dream of becoming a Priest come true.

But the Seminarian’s worst fear is that he may not become the kind of Priest he has always desired to become, owing to the interruptions that have marred his formation to the Priesthood due to the protracted militant activities in the Central African country.

The 26-year-old native of Baba I, one of the worst hit villages in the ongoing fighting between the Separatist Ambazonia militant groups and the Cameroonian military in Cameroon’s Northwestern region, shared with ACI Africa his journey of blood, sweat and tears in his quest to become a Catholic Priest.

Along the way, Seminarian Chimenyi who comes from St. Mark’s Parish of the Archdiocese of Bamenda has lost his mother whose ill health was exacerbated by the horrors of the five-year violence that has left at least 4, 000 dead.

The Cameroonian Seminarian has also watched as his younger siblings, now without parents, stay at home for years, unable to attend school as learning institutions in the region remain mostly closed.

In the Wednesday, September 7 interview with ACI Africa, Chimenyi whose desire to become a Priest was fueled when he cared for an elderly and sickly Priest belonging to St. Joseph’s Missionary Society of Mill Hill (MHM) in his Parish said that he is now tempted to imagine that he is not in formation for the right reasons.

“One of my greatest fears living in such a warring environment as a Seminarian is that I may not have the freedom of choice whether to continue to the Priesthood or not. Rather, I may be coerced to consider the Seminary as a hiding place from the tumult that surrounds me,” Seminarian Chimenyi said.

Also, top on the list of fears he shared with ACI Africa is the danger that he faces every day in his attempt to survive, as many people around him are killed every day.

In Cameroon, Seminarians have not been spared in the sporadic, and sometimes targeted attacks by the Separatist fighters. In one of the recent attacks, 33 members of St. John Paul II Major Seminary in Cameroon’s Mamfe Diocese were kidnapped alongside their driver, and later released.

With a series of other kidnappings targeting pastoral agents for ransom in the Central African country, Seminarian Chimenyi expresses fear that his life is always in danger.

Living, studying and working as a seminarian in a violent-stricken country, my very first fear is my life which is put in danger. Knowing that my life is like a bait to acquire what the separatists call ‘support of the struggle’ is already a threat towards my freedom,” the Seminarian says.

He says that some of the separatist fighters in the region are corrupt and see the Church as an easy target for exploitation.

The corrupt separatists, he says, “try to achieve such disordered ends by targeting pastoral agents especially Seminarians.”

“Their business with Seminarians is to deceive Church leaders and to extract huge chunks of money from them. And because of that, the lives of Seminarians are at stake when there is no positive response from the Superiors and Bishops,” he says.

Making reference to the kidnapping of Seminarians in Mamfe, in particular, Chimenyi says, “The Amba Boys threatened to kill some of them when the Church through the Bishops did not react to their request of ransom.”

Commenting on the laxity of the Church to respond to the kidnappers’ threat, the Seminarian says, “Bishops, though political as every other human being and despite their flaws, have always tried to mediate between the two camps in order to establish peace and justice. So, not complying completely to the dictates of the separatists has been a way of pointing out their extremist position.”

His other fear, Seminarian Chimenyi says, is that he may not attain the full stature of his formation program “due to the dictates of the violent environment.”

The start of the Anglophone crisis in 2017 marked the beginning of Seminarian Chimenyi’s troubled formation when the Academic Year 2016/2017 was tagged null and void, and the General Certificate of Education (GCE) he had just sat disqualified, halting his idea to join the Major Seminary.

“After succeeding in my A’ Levels’ exams to the satisfaction of the admissions’ requirements of the Mill Hill Missionaries, I still missed being admitted that year,” the 26-year-old shared, adding that he was forced to repeat Upper Sixth class in order to obtain an internationally valid GCE A Level’s certificate.

A year later, he joined St. Aloysius’ Minor Seminary, in Cameroon’s Kumbo Diocese, where he says he obtained a good certificate, adding, “My motivations to the Priesthood were further refined and focused.”

Seminarian Chimenyi recalls several instances he has been forced to study remotely as his Formation House remained closed owing to heightened violence.

He attests to having endured “very challenging times” in his Formation House, and explains, “My batch in particular has missed two 12-week Summer Pastoral Experiences due to the insecurity.”

“The prolonged periods of lockdowns and ghost towns, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic crisis necessitated the University where we study philosophy to introduce online classes. That program was a hell-like experience due to the bad network system and fluctuating supply of electricity,” he says, adding that the bad experiences have, however, strengthened his pastoral engagements as a Seminarian.

Sharing his inspiration to become a Priest against all odds in the embattled country, the Seminarian, who is presently on Mission Experience Program in Kenya’s Malindi Diocese, says that he was first deeply drawn to a Missionary Priest’s vestment that symbolized martyrdom.

“Like Moses in the Bible whose call began with a physical sign, the burning bush, my very first inspiration towards the Missionary Priesthood came from my admiration for the official vestment, the ‘red sarge’. I was attracted to the vestment without knowing what it signifies. I later learnt that it meant martyrdom and the readiness by Missionaries to spill their blood for Christ,” Seminarian Chimenyi narrated.

He added, “I also had the unique opportunity to look after a Mill Hill Priest, Fr. Willhem Op De Weigh, for about one month during his last moment of illness before he left Cameroon. During those moments, I got in touch with the Christo-centric Spirituality, shown in constant prayer, and simple life-style of the MHM.”

The two aspects, he says, served as his initial inspiration to join the Society of MHM in 2018.

“Having spent four years now in formation, my initial motivations with their impurities are being purified to focus on Christ’s salvific mission in the world through the Mill Hill Missionaries – to bring good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to those in captivity through Loving Service as her motto stipulates, ‘To Love and to Serve – Amare et Servire,’” Seminarian Chimenyi told ACI Africa.

Asked what keeps him soldiering on towards his missionary and Priestly vocation, the Seminarian said, “It is the love I have for the gentle unfolding of Christ’s purpose in my life, revealed to me in the different experiences of my personal, spiritual, academic and most of all pastoral life as a Seminarian.”

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