YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – In the light of new universal norms issued by the Vatican on priestly formation, Cameroon’s Catholic bishops are saying culture must still be taken into account in the training of seminarians.

During the 41st meeting of the Cameroon bishops’ conference, the bishops said at a time of significant technological change, there’s a need to move away from the traditional methodology of training priests.

Archbishop Samuel Kleda, the president of the bishops’ conference, said priestly formation today faces significant challenges, including poverty and the unstable political climate. He said these challenges directly and indirectly affect the ministry of the priest and also shape and condition the way formation is conducted in seminaries.

The archbishop said priests exhibit traits which call to question the quality of the training they received: Many lack pastoral commitment, have an attachment to materialism, and a tendency to over-socialize matters of faith and spirituality.

“These are disturbing trends,” Kleda said.

Yet the bishops also said the problems are not insurmountable.

“The Church always reforms itself according to the developments in society,” Bishop Emmanuel Bushu of Buéa told Crux.

“So at this time for the priesthood, which is very important for the Church, the leaders have thought that it is time to update because the world is changing very rapidly,” he said.

Bishop Michael Bibi, the auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Bamenda told Crux that stepping up the integral training of priests has become all the more pressing, given the negative results from the present system, which has been noticed by the faithful.

“We’ve discovered that when you ordain a priest and the priest goes out for pastoral work, you see discrepancies between what he was taught and what he is actually living in the parish. So the Church wants us to help the candidates interiorize what they are being taught. There should be no dichotomy between their studies and the work that they are supposed to carry out concretely on the ground,” Bibi said.

The bishops are basing their new program on Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis [the Gift of Priestly Vocation], the new guidelines issued by the Vatican to serve as the basis of priestly formation.

But such guidance, according to the Cameroonian bishops, must be rooted in the culture of the people.

Noting that young people today grow in a world of great challenges, Bishop Agapitus Enuyehnyoh Nfon told Crux that “our young people are called to the priesthood  from different cultures…although the Ratio Fundamentalis is universal, we need to domesticate it to reflect our cultural specificities…so we have to prepare a National Ratio Fundamentalis for the formation of priests in Cameroon, because we have our own culture which is not the same like Asia or Europe  or America.”

Nfon is the Bishop of Kumba, located in Cameroon’s South West Region.

He said it was necessary to familiarize priests with the cultures of the people they set out to evangelize.

“Effective evangelization can hardly take place outside the culture of a people,” Nfon explained.

The bishops said it was even more essential to be aware of the changing technological world in the formation of priests, especially since older bishops aren’t used to it.

“When I was in the seminary, we used typewriters,” Bibi told Crux.

“With laptops now, we encourage the students to use them for research; but understanding the dangers reckless use of the internet can bring, we try to guide them to the appropriate sites that will guide them as far as their formation and studies are concerned. We believe they can use social media to evangelize and so we try to make good use of technological development,” he said.

For all this to happen, Kleda believes the country’s bishops will have to play a fundamental role.

“The mission of the bishop is to specifically follow up the training of priests, because priests are direct collaborators of the bishop,” the archbishop told Crux.

Kleda said bishops can only effectively preach the Gospel if they make good use of priests.

“Therefore, priests should have very good training; integral training that addresses the human, spiritual and moral dimensions. At all levels, they should be stable people, capable of presenting the faithful to Jesus Christ.”

The bishops also used their meeting to address some of the burning issues affecting Cameroon.

In their final communiqué the bishops said they stood opposed to “all forms of violence,” and called for dialogue as the only way out of what has become known as the ‘Anglophone crisis’ in Cameroon.

Cameroon is divided between a French-speaking majority and an English-speaking minority. For over a year, the Anglophone regions of the country have been holding demonstrations against what they say is an encroachment of their rights. Some are even calling for outright independence, while the government has accused the protesters of “terrorism.”

“We call on all Cameroonians to pray for solutions to be found to the many social and political challenges our country faces in 2018,” the bishops said.