In Cameroon diocese, threat of Boko Haram means pastoral care requires military protection
"Missionaries are now accompanied by armed soldiers when they celebrate Sunday Mass."
In the wake of Boko Haram’s forays into Cameroon, pastoral care in the northern border region between Cameroon and Nigeria pastoral care is only possible under military protection, reported the local bishop. Bishop Bruno Ateba of Maroua-Mokolo in the north of Cameroon described the situation in an interview with the international Catholic agency Aid to the Church in Need.
"Following Boko Haram’s abduction of three priests and a nun in the border region by Boko Haram, missionaries are now accompanied by armed soldiers when they celebrate Sunday Mass there," said Ateba (50), who has been in office since May 2014. One French and two Italian missionary priests as well as a Canadian nun from Canada were abducted in late 2013 and in April 2014, though all were released after a few weeks. Ateba speculates that their respective governments paid a ransom.
"It's the Boko Haram extremists who come to us from Nigeria and cause disruption; apart from that we have no problems with Muslims. Rather, there is a strong dialogue since we regularly exchange views," said the bishop, who is a member of the Pallotine order. The border between northern Cameroon and Nigeria is extremely porous because families and whole tribes have settled on both sides and move freely around the region.
"The Boko Haram fighters supply themselves with food in the border area and attempt to make money by kidnapping. That's why the priests and nuns are now accompanied by the military when they visit the parishes close to the border," Ateba explained.
In the Cameroon province known as "Far North" (Extrême-Nord), with its capital of Maroua, Christians make up 50 percent of the three million people. One quarter of them are Catholic, another quarter being Muslim. The Diocese of Maroua-Mokolo has 43 parishes, served by 73 priests, only 23 of whom are from Cameroon. Almost 100 women religious work also provide pastoral care and run charitable institutions.
Ateba said: "Our diocese is a missionary area. That's why there are so many missionaries and religious priests working with us. We lack a lot of things. In Maroua we also have a small church, but we want to build a cathedral soon so that we do not have to conduct services in the open air."