YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – The head of Africa’s soccer federation told Cameroonian Catholics that just as his native South Africa overcame its “difficulties,” so can Cameroon.

Patrice Motsepe was visiting St. Joseph Anglophone Parish in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé. Cameroon is currently hosting the monthlong Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) soccer tournament, which ends Feb. 6.

“We were gathering for the Holy Mass when all of a sudden we saw security operatives…it was like a movie. Then we got news that it was the CAF president, Patrice Motsepe coming to take part in the Church service,” said Djom Peter, a catechist at the Church.

“A high-ranking person like that coming to our place made us very happy,” he added.

In his brief remarks to the congregation, Motsepe spoke about the “difficulties” South Africa has had to overcome as a nation and noted that Cameroon will overcome its own difficulties.

Currently, Cameroon is experiencing a civil conflict in its North West and South West regions, which are where the majority of the country’s English-speaking population lives. In 2016, protests against the imposition of French in the regions’ British-influenced education and legal systems were violently suppressed by the central government, leading to a secessionist rebellion.

Cameroon’s English speakers make up 20 percent of the country’s 25 million inhabitants.

Motsepe said soccer remains the one event which is played in all “fairness,” and which has justice and peace as its modus operandi.

“We can therefore all learn from football [soccer] to work for justice and peace in the country,” he said.

The parish’s head catechist, Dominique Mofor, said, “What touched me was his own faith. He was very committed. Despite his status in society, he still has God at heart.”

Archbishop Jean Mbarga of Yaoundé said he was “very proud to receive this testimony of one believer.”

“As a Christian, as a Catholic, he came this morning to honor the day of the Lord and to pray as an ordinary Christian. The fact that he came today to show us this testimony of faith shows that his intentions are really profound. I am sure he will continue to pray for Cameroon, for all the young people, for the nations in Africa and we will continue to do the same for him. We will continue to pray for his mission and for the success of the Afcon,” he said.

Father Hunphrey Tatah Mbuy, the Communication Secretary of the Cameroon Bishops’ Conference, said he ‘loved’ what Motsepe said because it directly addresses the root cause of the separatist conflict afflicting Cameroon.

“Everywhere where you want peace, you must follow the rules of justice,” Mbuy told Crux.

He said the rules of soccer can instruct societies on how to deal with its own conflicts.

“That’s why football has got a yellow card and a red card. That’s why there are certain things you don’t do on the football field. That’s why football has rules which whether you like it or not, you must follow. And therefore, in our society, if we want to follow things as they should be, the rules are there to be followed. But more and more we fail to follow the rules we have set for ourselves, or we follow them when they fit us,” the priest said.

“It’s like thinking that in football, you can score with your hands or you can become nasty and just step on everybody that is in front of you in order to score. The referee wouldn’t let you do it. You have to be just in order to have peace,” he said.

Mbuy said it was precisely the lack of respect for the rules that led to the escalating separatist crisis in Cameroon that has so far led to the deaths of at least 4000 people, with over a million more forced to flee from their homes.

Cameroon was a former German colony divided between Britain and France after World War I. The French-administered part of the country gained independence in 1960 and became known as La Republique du Cameroun. The English-speaking part of Cameroon gained independence a year later but reunited with the French part to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon.

However, the federation became a unitary state in 1972, and the current president, Paul Biya removed the word “United” from the country’s official name in 1984.

Mbuy said this move meant the Anglophone component of the country had been “wiped out,” and the current marginalization and injustice suffered by the country’s English speakers flows from violating the federal character which formed the country.

“It is precisely because the rules were violated that we are where we are today,” he said.

During his visit, Motsepe also donated $200,000 to the Catholic Church of Cameroon on behalf of the Motsepe Foundation, which was established to alleviate poverty and to sustainably improve the living standards of the poor, unemployed and marginalized people.