YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – As the Anglophone crisis continues in Cameroon, one Jesuit priest has promised to conduct a pilgrimage for peace in October if the deadlock remains unbroken.
Father Ludovic Lado told Crux in a statement he would walk from Bamenda, the capital of the North West Region, to Buea, the capital of the South West Region, a trip of over 200 miles.
These two English-speaking regions are home to around 20 percent of Cameroon’s population of 25 million, with the rest of the country speaking French.
The current crisis began in 2017 after government forces ruthlessly put down strikes organized by Anglophone teachers and lawyers over perceived attempts by the majority French-speaking government to destroy the common law and British-style education systems practiced in the formerly British-ruled North West and South West regions of the country. The breakdown in attempts at dialogue resulted in the growth of several separatist movements trying to establish a new country called Ambazonia.
The resulting conflict, now in its fourth year, has killed over 3000 people, with about a million forced from their homes.
Lado said the Catholic Church can’t be indifferent to the deaths, saying this would be a “collective sin.”
“As the Anglophone crisis goes wild, dialogue, justice, reconciliation and peace remain the keywords for a lasting solution,” the priest said.
“This is what we have been saying since the beginning of this tragedy which sinks deeper every day into the horror that crucifies women and children before our very eyes. My faith as a Christian, priest, prophet and king forbids me to be indifferent. Our indifference has become a collective sin,” he continued.
The Catholic Church in Cameroon has been at the forefront of peace efforts in the region, calling for an end to the violence. They have attacked the government for heavy-handed tactics, while at the same time condemned the human rights abuses perpetrated by the rebels, especially the enforced closure of the schools in the Anglophone regions.
Recently, Archbishop Dieudonne Mbarga of Yaoundé hosted a meeting between government officials and jailed separatist leaders serving life sentences.
The separatists presented the government with four pre-conditions for any dialogue to take place, including the release of all those arrested in connection with the crisis, the withdrawal of troops from the streets, the granting of an amnesty, and the choosing of a neutral arbiter and venue for dialogue mutually agreed upon by both parties.
Archbishop Andrew Nkea of Bamenda told Vatican Radio in July that the Church is constantly working behind the scenes to promote dialogue.
“Even if the representatives of the Church do not sit at the negotiating table, in any case we continue to encourage dialogue and the search for a negotiated solution that definitively replaces weapons,” Nkea said.
Lado still says he doesn’t think the Catholic Church has done enough to pressure the Cameroon government and the separatists “for a negotiated solution” to the crisis.
“When I speak here of the Catholic Church, I am not only thinking of the bishops and priests, but also of the laity who go to mass every Sunday,” he said.
“The indifference of the Catholic Church in Cameroon is a sin,” the priest added.
“If by October 2020, the Catholic Church, the Cameroonian State and the Ambazonians have done nothing for dialogue, justice, reconciliation and peace in the North West and South West, I will do my part. I have nothing to hide. I will begin a pedestrian pilgrimage that will take me from Bamenda to Buea via Yaoundé and Douala until the belligerents hear the voice of reason and put an end to human suffering in these regions,” he promised.
The pledge is dangerous – several priests have been murdered during the conflict, and others kidnapped for ransom.
But Lado says he will assume the risk.
“I’m already prepared to die for this cause, if I have to. It’s better to die for the cause of justice for all than to die of COVID-19. If I were to come across death during this pilgrimage, this would then take the place of my will. On my grave, it will suffice to write: “Blessed are the persecuted for righteousness” (Mt 5:10). Outrage is no longer enough. I can’t stand still,” the priest said.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group says that the Catholic Church is uniquely positioned to negotiate the peace in Cameroon.
“Other than the Catholic clergy, there are few prospective peacemakers. If no one fills that role, the separatist sentiment already voiced by many Anglophones will continue to grow, fuelling further violence and exacerbating the ongoing insurgency in the Anglophone region,” the organization said in a report last year.