Father Anthony Chantry, Director of the Church’s official charity for overseas mission, Missio, has been talking to us about the Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon – particularly the Catholic Church’s role in working for justice and peace.
It’s a long-running conflict, with its roots in colonial times, that is often overlooked by the rest of the world. There’s no real end in sight and the human cost is severe. Almost one million people have been internally displaced, there are frequent reports of atrocities such as kidnappings and use of torture and more than 3,000 have been killed.
The Church doesn’t take sides, it stands on the side of the people often found suffering in the middle. But the ‘middle’ is exactly where it should be according to Father Chantry:
“The Church is the only institution that is trusted by the people. The Church has consistently preached a message of peace – no violence but peace with justice.
“The Church is very much caught in the middle because the Amba Boys, many of them will say ‘you’re telling us not to fight back, you must be on the side of the government. You’re telling us to put down our arms and to talk to the people in Francophone Cameroon – to the government’. And the government say, ‘you’re obviously on the side of the Amba Boys because you’re telling us not to take action against those who are causing trouble’. So [the Church] is caught in the middle, but happily in the middle because that’s where you can bring people together.
“But there is a cost to that and a price to pay. And in 2018, when I last visited Cameroon, I was there when one of our own missionaries, a 33-year-old Mill Hill Missionary from Kenya, who had only been in Cameroon for a couple of years. He was shot dead by the military as he was standing outside his church talking to a group of refugees. They came into the compound and they fired at people standing there, and he was hit and he died within hours.”
So what can the Catholic Church offer on the gound to make a difference?
“[The Church is] encouraging people to to seek peaceful ways of reconciliation, of not using violence under any circumstances. Sometimes they’ve negotiated in resolving kidnappings. So people who have been kidnapped for ransom, they’ve intervened on a local basis to try to get a person released.
“The Church’s general message to the population is that the way it’s being handled at the moment – by both sides – is not going to achieve anything except more violence, more deaths, more suffering.
“The people trust the Church and trust what the Church is saying. They don’t trust the government and they probably don’t trust their own leaders up to a point, but they do trust the voice of the Church and will listen to it.
“The bishops, I know, have been quite active within Cameroon. They have a voice, a voice for the people, in trying to reduce the amount of violence, bringing to light human rights abuses, of which there are countless numbers.”
What would Fr Chantry encourage the Catholic community in England and Wales to do to lend its support to the people of Cameroon?
“Three three things, really. The first one is prayer. Prayer is the foundation of our action – it’s the beginning and the end of what we do. It’s an outpouring of love and brings to consciousness people who are suffering. The second thing we can do, which Missio does, is to raise awareness. Take an interest in what’s going on in Cameroon and when an opportunity arises to do something, whether it’s writing to an MP or sharing that story of Cameroon with someone else, do it. That’s part of our mission, the mission of Jesus to be aware of people who are suffering.”
“The third way would be, of course, to offer financial help. Missio supports the Church throughout the world, especially in so-called ‘mission countries’ where the Church is very young and poor, and, like in Cameroon, in a state of persecution.”
Fr Anthony Chantry was talking to us for our Catholic News podcast.