YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – A leading Cameroonian archbishop has called on Catholics to pray the rosary for peace in the country’s conflict-ridden Anglophone regions.

“We have known fighting. We have known killing. We have known destruction of property and all kinds of evil associated with war. It is not ended. It is still continuing,” said Andrew Nkea Fuanya on Dec. 8.

Nkea is the archbishop of Bamenda, in Cameroon’s North West Region. The Bamenda ecclesiastical region includes both the North West and South West regions, which make up the English-speaking areas of the majority French-speaking country.

Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions have been ravaged by conflict since the violent suppression of a series of demonstrations against the imposition of French in the Anglophone regions’ common law and British-based education system.

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At least 3,500 people have been killed in the conflict since it began in 2016, and at least 700,000 more displaced. In addition, rebels have shut down the education system in the two regions, burning schools and kidnapping students and staff.

Both the insurgents and government troops have been accused of grave human rights abuses, with the civilian population caught in the middle.

Nkea said he believes Mary holds the key to a lasting peace.

“Our human intelligence seems to have been blocked in looking for a solution. And that is why we are turning to God the Almighty in prayer because we believe that God will make a way where there seems to be no way,” the prelate said.

“I invite all the Catholics and non-Catholics of the archdiocese of Bamenda to call on Our Lady to intercede for us so that peace may return to our society. We should not leave Our Lady to have any rest until peace has come back amongst us and the killings have stopped. Peace must return to Bamenda. Peace must return to our society. Jesus the Prince of Peace must bring back peace to Cameroon. Our Mother Mary cannot be in Heaven and we, her children, are suffering on earth like this,” he said.

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Nkea called on all Catholics to pray the rosary daily – individually, in groups, and in families – “so that our prayers will rise to Heaven, like one big smoke of incense. She (Mary) must hear us, and Jesus must hear us.”

“From all the corners of the archdiocese, the heavens will hear us. And on this mountain, we shall pass through Mary to Jesus,” he said.

The archbishop was speaking at the inauguration of the Shrine of our Lady of Fatima at Abangoh, a hill on the outskirts of Bamenda.

“On this Mountain of Abanghoh, God shall judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. On this Mountain of Abanghoh, God shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. On this Mountain of Abanghoh, the nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore,” he said.

“Peace will flow down from this Mountain like a river throughout the North West Region, throughout our Diocese and into the rest of Cameroon,” the archbishop added.

“We shall never allow evil to defeat good and the only way we shall do this is to join the Blessed Virgin Mary to fight evil. The rosary is the only weapon we have at our disposals,” he said.

English-speaking Cameroonians make up to 20 percent of the country’s population and have long complained about being marginalized by the French-speaking majority. The Anglophone rebels say they want to secede from Cameroon and establish a new nation, to be called Ambazonia.

In 2019, the government organized what it called a “Major National Dialogue” to try finding solutions to the crisis.

The meeting proposed several recommendations, including the adoption of a special status for the two Anglophone regions, the restoration of the House of Traditional Chiefs, the election of local governors, the immediate reinstatement of certain airport and seaport projects in the two regions, and the rapid integration of ex-combatants into society.

However, most of the rebels have rejected the government’s proposals.

“This conflict has been going on for too long. Lives have been lost, property destroyed, and our people have been forced to flee their homeland,” Nkea said. “After so many years fighting and killing each other, now is the time for peace.”