YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – A bishop who’s long been a lightning rod in his native Cameroon, including being twice kidnapped by separatist militants, has been honored by a leading weekly newspaper for effective management.
Bishop Michael Bibi of the Diocese of Buea in Cameroon’s troubled Southwest region was named winner of the “Church Management Torchbearer Award” by the newspaper NewsWatch, for what editor-in-chief Ndi Eugene Ndi described as “exceptional skills in leading God’s people in the Diocese of Buea.”
The Sept. 29 award also lauded Bibi for “tactfully restructuring the Catholic University Institute of Buea (CUIB) to fulfill its mission of molding entry-level professionals with moral and spiritual values.”
According to the NewsWatch representative, Bibi and other award winners were chosen by the newspaper’s large readership, and a committee of specialists made up of national media figures put together the final results.
Named the apostolic administrator of Buea in 2019 and then made bishop of the diocese in January 2021, Bibi long has stirred controversy.
Just months after taking canonical possession of the diocese, Bibi faced stiff opposition following reforms he introduced that didn’t go down well with protesters. Among other moves, he appointed a new vice chancellor to the Catholic University, which galvanized widespread opposition. An online petition protesting the choice described Bibi as “an emperor and a tyrant bishop” who had “destroyed Catholicism in Buea Diocese.”
Armed separatists angry with what they perceive as oppression at the hands of Cameroon’s French-speaking majority under longtime President Paul Biya, who are seeking to create a breakaway country called “Ambazonia,” have targeted Bibi as well.
As he’s attempted to visit Christian communities in some of the areas hardest hit by the violence, Bibi has twice been kidnapped by militants, within a 48-hour span.
Admirers, however, credit the 52-year-old Bibi with trimming expenses, raising teachers’ salaries and building numerous new schools in various parishes. He defied convention by appointing lay faithful to manage Catholic secondary schools.
The completion of a portion of the cutting-edge Bishop Pius Awah Pastoral Centre, the first of its kind in the diocese, is considered one of his most notable achievements, affording inhabitants of Buea will a place for meetings and spiritual development.
Bibi has also founded the first television station with a Catholic character in the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province, called DMRTV.
Bibi is himself a prominent media figure, recording regular weekly catechetical lessons which are attracting a wide audience.
“It is my wish that this award that I have received will be an extra motivation to the people of the Diocese of Buea, so that we continue to work together to see how we can make the diocese to grow from strength to strength,” Bibi said in an interview shortly after receiving the award.
He said the award wasn’t just for him, but also for “the priests, the religious, and members of Christ’s lay faithful” who make up the diocese.
“As the chief shepherd of the Diocese of Buea, if I am able to do anything, it is thanks to the support and the prayers and cooperation of all the people of God,” he said.
“I think that the greatest secret of our success is the fact that we work together, share our ideas together, and once we have made the decision on the ones to implement, everybody comes on board,” Bibi said.
“I have always told the people of Buea that I am proud of them because whatever we have to do as far as their spiritual lives are concerned, they adhere. When we have projects to carry out in the different parishes and at the level of the diocese, everybody comes on board. I think that the secret is working together with the people, being a servant in their midst and making sure that we journey together,” he said.
According to Viban Jude, chairman of the panel of experts that bestowed the award, Bibi implemented “major reforms, including the suppression of doubtful lay associations.”