YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Cameroon’s Cardinal Christian Wiyghan Tumi on April 3 at the age of 91.
The archbishop-emeritus of Douala was the only Cameroonian cardinal, and active in the country’s church and political scene to the very end of his life. Tumi had been hospitalized for three weeks and died on the evening of Good Friday.
Although not directly attributed to his death, Tumi had been kidnapped on Nov. 5, 2020, by separatists in Cameroon’s conflict-ridden Anglophone regions, which had an affect on the frail prelate.
Tumi was described as a fearless pastor who preached the truth and lived a fulfilled life.
“We only thank God for all that he has done and that it only happened during this Holy Season of the Triduum,” said Archbishop Andrew Nkea Fuanya of Bamenda.
Speaking to the state broadcaster, Nkea called Tumi “a strong man of faith, a real servant of God, a fearless preacher of the truth, and someone who loved the Church with his whole heart, and he lived his whole life at the service of God and his people.”
“I also remember him very strongly as an ambassador of peace; someone who worked tirelessly in spite of his failing health, to make sure that peace is restored in the North West and the South West regions,” the archbishop said, speaking of the English-speaking regions of the majority French-speaking country.
For the Bishop Michael Bibi of Buea said Tumi was “a father figure, somebody who stood for the truth; somebody who showed concern for those who were suffering and marginalized, and who always wanted to come to their assistance.”
“I see him as a committed Church leader, who when convinced about what was correct, stood for it, even if it meant that he would be criticized for standing for the truth,” the bishop told Crux.
“He remains a great example and model for all of us,” he told added.
“We will miss him, but we thank God for his life, for God to have permitted him to live for almost 91 years, it’s something to thank God for, especially with the achievements he has made in the Church as a faithful servant of the mysteries that were entrusted to him, we can only thank God for his life and for all what God used him to accomplish in Cameroon and in the Universal Church, and we pray that God should be merciful in judging him and grant him eternal rest in his Kingdom,” Bibi said.
But his death on the same day as Saint Pope John Paul II, who created him cardinal, and above all on the same day Christ was crucified has been interpreted as a sign of hope in a troubled nation.
“The loss of the cardinal is very symbolic to us because he dies on the Easter Triduum. As Christians, Easter reminds us of the victory of Christ, the power of Christ that comes from His resurrection; His victory over death, victory over everything that is dark,” said Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo, Tumi’s home city.
“The cardinal throughout his life has stood like a lion, a beacon of hope; and he has shown us that it is possible for change to take place without bloodshed; that it is possible for people to live in a just and upright society, and he has fought for that to his death and I think it is significant because his dying at Easter tells us that it is possible for change to take place in our land without bloodshed,” Nkuo told Crux.
“His death at Easter tells us that this war that is going on cannot have the last word; this killing, this violence, this fighting that is going on cannot have the last word,” he added.
The bishop said it was “a beautiful, significant coincident” that the cardinal died the same day as Christ, and noted that the call for a return to peace was clear.
“We must hear the call of change. It’s a sign that change has to take place. It’s a call that it’s possible for us to drop our weapons for violence to cease, if only people are ready to open their hearts, reach out to the truth, for justice, for love, for peace, for reconciliation. I see God speaking to us through the Cardinal’s death, because God speaks to us through the things happening around us. I want to see this as an event that touches on our lives, because it’s God telling us that these combined events have something to tell us, and anybody who loves this land, anybody who has a sense of good, and justice and truth should be apostles of Triduum,” Nkuo said.
Born in 1930, Cardinal Tumi studied in Cameroon, Nigeria, France and Switzerland. He was ordained a priest in April 1966, appointed bishop in 1979 and created a cardinal June 1988.
The prelate was a strong critic of the authorities, often calling out the government of Paul Biya over allegations of corruption, electoral malpractices and the entrenchment of a gerontocracy in Cameroon.
“If I were Biya, I would resign,” Tumi said on several occasions, much to the displeasure of the supporters of the 89-year-old president, who has been in power since 1982.
However, this didn’t stop the government from turning to the cardinal to help promote its peace plan to end the Anglophone crisis that began in 2016. Tumi lead one of the “peace caravans” the government sent to the English-speaking regions in 2019.
“Cardinal Tumi leaves a legacy as the father of our faith. His faith was very strong, and we saw a lot of the teachings of the Church in his life,” Nkea said.