Cameroon – The Bishop of Mamfe expressed his gratitude for the release of the priests, laypeople, and a religious sister, but repeated his condemnation of the attack on the church in which they were taken by rebels.
“I am sincerely grateful to all those who joined us in this collective effort of praying for the safety and release of our brothers and sisters,” wrote the Bishop of Mamfe, Mgr. Aloysius Fondong Abangalo.
The five priests, three laypeople, and one nun who were kidnapped in Southwestern Cameroon on September 16, 2022 have been freed and are in good health, according to the message sent by Bishop Abangalo to Pontifical Charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), on Sunday, October 23, in which he expressed his joy for the well-being of the nine hostages.
Since their kidnapping, the charity had repeatedly asked for prayers for their well-being and release.
“Just like St. Paul, I, too, say to each of you: ‘And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.’” (Phil. 1:6)
Bishop Abangalo urged the faithful to pray a mystery of the Rosary “in thanksgiving to God for the safe release of our brothers and sisters who were kidnapped.” A thanksgiving Mass in the Cathedral of Mamfe was scheduled for October 25.
As stated by one of those released, no ransom was paid to free the group.
A video widely circulated by the media toward the end of October showed the group of kidnapped men and women, in poor condition, being held in the bush. In the video, one of the priests was heard asking for help. According to reliable sources, ACN determined that the images were recorded two weeks prior. At the time they were circulated, negotiations for the release of the nine abductees were already underway.
In his letter, the Bishop of Mamfe strongly condemned, once more, the desecration of the Church of Saint Mary, which was burned down during the attack, and described “taking away the freedom of our fellow brothers and sisters” as “inhuman.”
Cameroon has been plagued by a political and social conflict involving conflict and division between the anglophone and francophone regions. The English-speaking population, which is mostly found in the southwest and northwest of the country, claims to be marginalised by the French-speaking authorities.
Conflicts have intensified significantly since 2016, and there have been several violent clashes between the government forces and militants who fight for the independence of the self-proclaimed Federal Republic of Ambazonia (which claims the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon). In its efforts to quell dissent, the army has laid waste to large parts of the region, including many church properties. This latest incident, however, marked the first time that rebels attacked the church and kidnapped priests in their struggle for independence.