Such is the richness of the grace which he has showered on us in all wisdom and insight.? (Eph. 1: 4 ? 8).
How can we thank God enough for today? I thank him for having chosen me, unworthy as I am, ?for his own kind purposes? to become the Pastor of his flock in Bamenda. Uprooted first from the hills and valleys of Mbetta to Kumbo, and now from Kumbo to Bamenda, I feel like the Prophet Amos, a shepherd who was called from looking after sycamores on the hills of Judah to prophesy in Bethel(cf. Am. 7:10?17).
2. I want to express my profound gratitude to the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, for confirming my appointment to the Metropolitan See of Bamenda, notwithstanding my unworthiness.
I heartily thank his Representative the Most Rev. Antonio Eliseo Ariotti, Titular Archbishop of Vibiana and Apostolic Nuncio to Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, for having kindly accepted to preside at this celebration.
I am equally grateful to the Archbishops and Bishops of Cameroon and all of you who have come from far and near to celebrate this day with us. I joyfully greet all of you, the clergy, men and women religious, and Christ?s lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Bamenda.
Thank you for your warm welcome. I praise and thank Almighty God for your dynamism. Homage to an Illustrious Predecessor
3. This celebration is primarily an act of thanksgiving to Almighty God for our dear Father, the Most Rev. Paul Verdzekov, on the occasion of his 75th Birthday. He has spent almost half of his life span, more than 35 years, as the Shepherd of the Archdiocese of Bamenda, of which he is the Founding Father.
He has built up the Diocese from the scratch to what it is today, a Metropolitan See with all its complex structures. The birth of the Diocese of Kumbo in 1982, barely 12 years after the erection of the Diocese of Bamenda was the fruit of his hard work and vision.
He has been a great and exemplary Pastor, endowed with extraordinary qualities ? human and spiritual. Many have described him as one of the intellectual giants of the Church in Africa because of the invaluable contributions he has made not only on the level of the Church in Cameroon, which he led for 6 years as the President of the National Episcopal Conference, but also on the continental and universal levels.
4. He has been a member of many Dicasteries of the Holy See: the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pontifical Council for the Family, etc. He is an expert of the Synod of Bishops and has participated in various capacities in many Ordinary and Special General Assemblies of the Synod.
He is a member of the Council of the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops and was one of the key persons who drafted the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Africa.
5. He has contributed a lot to priestly formation not only in our Ecclesiastical Province but also on the level of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon and beyond. He was one of the brains behind the establishment and development of our Provincial Major Seminary, Bambui which has nursed to maturity and given a world wide reputation in the area of priestly formation.
His assistance has very often been solicited by the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples to serve as an Apostolic Visitator of many major Seminaries in Africa.
6. Faithful to his motto: ?Et veritas liberavit vos? ? ?And the truth shall make you free? (Jn. 8: 32), he has been a strong defender of the fundamental human rights and has contributed a lot to the promotion of justice and peace in our society and to the total liberation of the human person, body and soul.
His pastoral ministry at the helm of the Archdiocese of Bamenda has been a wonderful track-record. The Bench of the Conference of the Bishops of Cameroon will greatly miss him both on the national and provincial levels but we hope to continue to draw from his wealth of wisdom as the Emeritus Archbishop of Bamenda.
It is, therefore, with trembling and fear that I accept to become his successor. As I take up this office I would like to make my own the prayer of young Solomon: ?May the Lord our God be with us, as he was with our ancestors; may he never desert us or cast us off.
May he turn our hearts towards him so that we may follow all his ways and keep the commandments? ? (1 Kg 8: 57 ? 58).
The Truth liberates
7. When I became the Bishop of Kumbo some 23 years ago, I chose for myself the motto ?Sermo tuus veritas est? ? ?Your Word is Truth? (Jn. 17: 17). This choice was motivated by the importance I wanted to give to the Word of God in my pastoral ministry.
This Word which ?was the true light that enlightens all men? and which ?was made flesh and lived among us? (Jn 1: 8, 14), should be the source and inspiration of our Christian life. It should purify and uplift the values of the African culture.
Today I can see better the providential link between the motto of the outgoing Archbishop of Bamenda: ?Et veritas liberavit vos? (Jn. 8: 32) and that of his humble successor: ?Sermo tuus veritas est.?(Jn. 17:17). The truth that liberates us is Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word of God.
He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. His words are truth and they are life (Jn. 6: 63). As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council clearly stated, the Word of God is nourishment which ?enlightens the mind, strengthens the will and fires the hearts of men with the love of God.? (Decree on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, n. 23).
8. It is through the proclamation of this Word that the Church continues the mission of Christ of liberating the whole person ? body and soul. ?The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the down trodden free, to proclaim the Lord?s year of favour.? (Lk 4: 18). The Bishop as the teacher of the faith and the herald of the Word of God is the prophet of truth which liberates.
He, ?with the strength which comes from the radicalism of the Gospel, also has the duty to unmask false conceptions of man, to defend values being threatened by ideological movements and to discern the truth.? (Pope John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Pastores Gregis on the Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World, n. 66).
Our Program of Evangelisation
9. I therefore see my pastoral ministry here as a continuation of what has so well been begun. As I mentioned on the 11th January 2005, the day I was presented to the faithful as the Co-adjustor Archbishop of Bamenda, the programme of our work of evangelisation is already contained in our Provincial Pastoral Plan. That programme is global and detailed enough. All that needs to be added will be my own vision of and emphasis on the whole programme.
Our Provincial Pastoral Plan, imperfect as it may be, is the program of evangelisation for the coming years and all the other programmes and pastoral initiatives, individual or collective, should be situated in it, if they want to be recognized and find their legitimate place.
10. In the Church as Family of God all the members have to work together harmoniously for the service and the common good of the entire family (cf. 1 Cor. 12: 4 ? 30). We would have to lay a greater accent on participatory and collaborative ministry if we do not want to run the risk of unhealthy rivalry or of dissipating our energy. All of us, priests, religious and laity, need to have a common vision and a common purpose, and the same mind which was in Christ Jesus (cf. Phil. 2: 5).
The Word of God and the Eucharist
11. We have just ended the Year of the Eucharist and the Year of the Bible. These have been privileged moments of grace for us. The Word of God and the Eucharist are the two pillars on which the life of the Church is built.
As the Second Vatican Council teaches, ?The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord, in so far as she never ceases, particularly in the sacred liturgy, to partake of the bread of life and offer it to the faithful from the one table of the Word of God and the Body of Christ? (D.V. n. 21).
We would, therefore, have to make the Word of God the basis and inspiration of our pastoral life and work, starting from the Small Christian communities. We were reminded during our recent Provincial Bible Congress, held in St. Augustine?s College, Kumbo, from the 12th ? 15th December 2005, that we have to know the Word of God better, love it more, live it more deeply and proclaim it with greater enthusiasm.
An authentic inculturation of the Christian message will only come through a sound and profound knowledge of the Word of God which is ?alive and active? (Hebr.4:12) and which has the power to transform us and our culture(cf. Acts 20:32).
12. The recent General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which took place in Rome from 2nd to 23rd October 2005 as the conclusion of the Year of the Eucharist, reminded all of us that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church. It is the centre and nourishment of our life as Christians.
In his Apostolic Letter on the occasion of the Year of the Eucharist, Pope John Paul II underlined the centrality of the Eucharist in the work of evangelisation when he exhorted the Pastors of the Particular Churches in the following words: ?I am not asking the individual Churches to alter their pastoral programmes, but to emphasize the Eucharistic dimension which is part of the whole Christian life.? (Mane Nobiscum Domine, n.5). All our pastoral programmes and life should flow from and end with the Eucharist.
The Spirituality of Communion
13. The Church is the Sacrament of unity and communion. This unity and communion finds its concrete expression in the Particular Church when all her members: clergy, religious and laity can live and work together in harmony under the leadership of the Bishop, each one playing his or her God-given role as in a symphony (cf. St. Ignatius of Antioch).
In order to achieve this objective we have to promote what Pope John Paul II calls the spirituality of communion. A spirituality of common ?means an ability to think of our brothers and sisters in faith within the profound unity of the Mystical Body, and therefore as ?those who are part of me?.?
It also implies ?the ability to see what is positive in others, to welcome it and prize it as a gift from God: not only as a gift for the brother or sister who has received it directly, but also as a ?gift for me?. A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to ?make room? for our brothers and sisters, bearing ?each other?s burden? (Gal. 6: 2) and resisting the selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy.? (Tertio Millennio Ineunte n. 43).
In this regard I would like to appeal especially to all the categories of the lay faithful to continue to make their specific and indispensable contribution to the work of the evangelisation of our fast growing Christian communities and to consider themselves as true fellow workers with God (cf. 1 Cor. 3: 9).
The Bishop as Father and Brother
14. In the Particular Church as Family of God, the Bishop is the father in the image of God the Father. In the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation ?Pastores Gregis? on the Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World, Pope John Paul II has this to say about the figure of the Bishop as father.
?The tradition which sees the Bishop as an image of God the Father is quite ancient. As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote, the Father is like an invisible Bishop, the Bishop of all. Every Bishop, therefore, stands in the place of the Father of Jesus Christ in such a way that, precisely because of this representation, he is to be revered by all.
Consonant with this symbolism, the Bishop?s chair, which especially in the tradition of the Eastern Churches evokes God?s paternal authority, can only be occupied by the Bishop. This same symbolism is the source of every Bishop?s duty to lead the holy people of God as a devoted father and to guide them ? together with his priests, his co-workers in the Episcopal ministry, and with his deacons ? in the way of salvation.
Conversely, as an ancient text exhorts, the faithful are to love their Bishops who are, after God, their fathers and mothers. For this reason, in accordance with a custom widespread in certain cultures, one kisses the Bishop?s hand as one would kiss the hand of the loving Father, the giver of life.? (P.G. n. 7)
Acting as father, brother and friend to all, the Bishop has to ?stand beside everyone as the living image of Christ our hope, in whom all God?s promises are fulfilled and all the expectations of creation are brought to completion.? P.G. n. 4).
15. The Bishop is a father particularly to the priests who share in his priestly functions and who are his closest collaborators. That is why our revered Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory, exhorts the Bishop to strive always ?to relate to his priests as a father and brother who loves them, listens to them, welcomes them, corrects them, supports them, seeks their cooperation and, as much as possible, is concerned for their human, spiritual, ministerial and financial well-being.? P.G. n. 47).
16. Our Father, Most Rev. Paul Verdzekov has reminded us of the ancient tradition of addressing the Bishop as ?Father? in a Circular he addressed to all the faithful of the Archdiocese through the Clergy, Religious communities, Full-time Catechists, Presidents of Parish Pastoral Councils and the Focolare Movement on the 20th December 2001.
In this Circular he humbly requested that he be addressed as ?Father?. This is a venerable title which has an important place in the African Culture. I consider it one of the important legacies I have inherited from him.
I, therefore, request that you should not hesitate to address me as Father, Papa Bishop, Père Evêque, Bobo, Taah, Ataàh, Ataah, or the equivalent in your own dialect.
However, you may feel free to address me with the other accepted titles if you feel more comfortable with them. What is important is that you consider and relate to me as a son or a daughter to a father.
Pray that in my pastoral ministry and in relating with you I may be a reflection, no matter how dim it may be, of this image of a father, or at least of a brother. For, the Bishop becomes a ?father? precisely because he is fully a ?son? of the Church.? (cf. P.G. n. 10). I want to be among you both as a father and a brother.
The Bishop as a Fellow Christian
17. During the 10th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on ?The Bishop, Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World? which took place in Rome from 30th September to 27th October 2001, the following phrase from St. Augustine?s famous sermon on the Good Shepherd was often heard in the Synod Hall: ?For you I am a Bishop and with you I am a Christian? (cf. P.G. n. 10).
Twenty three years ago, after my Episcopal Ordination on the 8th December 1982, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, on the grounds of St. Augustine?s College, Kumbo, I made reference to this phrase in my address to the people. I would like to repeat it today. ?For you I am a Bishop and with you I am a Christian?.
18. This phrase has far reaching implications for the person who has been called the exercise the very heavy and difficult ministry of a Bishop. This is what St. Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, says: ?The Lord, as he thought fit, and not according to my own merits, appointed me to this position, for which the account to be rendered is fraught with danger; and I exhibit two distinct features: one, that I am a Christian, two that I am appointed overseer of others.
The fact that I am a Christian is for my benefit, that I am appointed overseer is for yours. My own good is to be considered in my being a Christian, in my being an overseer, only yours? But I, besides being a Christian, and for this having to render an account for my life, am a leader also, and for this shall render to God an account of my ministry.? (Divine Office, Vol. III, p. 538).
To be a Bishop is a tremendously delicate responsibility for which one has to give an account to God not only for himself but also for the people who have been entrusted to his pastoral care.
The Bishop as a Servant
19. The Bishop is the servant of the People of God. This is the significance of the Crosier which has been handed over to me today by my illustrious predecessor. It is a sign of service, that is, of leading the flock ever to greener pastures in order that they may have life and have it more abundantly(cf. Jn. 10:10).
His Grace, Most Rev. Paul Verdzekov is handing over this Crosier to me after more than 35 years of faithful and meritorious service of the People of God. From my 23 years experience as Pastor of Kumbo Diocese I can imagine how heavy the Crosier of the Archdiocese of Bamenda can be. I pray that following the example of the Good Shepherd who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many(cf. Mt. 20:28), and who laid down his life for his sheep (cf. Jn. 10:11), I may be among you as one who serves(cf. Lk. 22:27).
20. It is not easy to be a good and holy Bishop. As Pope John Paul II quoting St. Augustine again says, ??whatever we may be, let not your hope be placed in us: if we are good, we are your servants, if we are bad, we are still your servants. But if we are good and faithful servants, it is then that we are truly your servants.? Servants of the Gospel for the hope of the world? (P.G. n. 5).
I would, therefore, like to recommend ourselves to your prayers. Pray for the outgoing Archbishop of Bamenda that God may reward him for the many years of service as a faithful Pastor of this Particular Church and bless him with good health.
Pray also for me that through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Redeemer and of St. Joseph, her husband and Patron of the Universal Church, the Lord may give me the grace to be to you a faithful servant and a Pastor according to his heart.
Gratitude to Missionaries and Collaborators
21. Today we cannot but think of the missionaries who have contributed to implant the Church in Cameroon. The first of these, the Pallotine Missionaries, founded by St. Vincent Pallotti, whose Memoria the Church celebrates on the 22nd of this month, arrived Cameroon in December 1890 and celebrated the first solemn Holy Mass on Cameroonian soil in Marienberg (Diocese of Edea) on the 8th December, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
They were followed by the Sacred Heart Fathers of St. Quentin who arrived Kumbo in December 1912 and founded the first Mission in Shisong in January 1913, and the Mill Hill Missionaries who arrived in 1922 and took over from the Pallotine and the Sacred Heart Fathers the work of evangelisation in the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda.
This is an opportunity to praise and thank God for all the missionaries, past and present, who have contributed and continue to do so to the evangelisation of the Church in Cameroon and in our Ecclesiastical Province.
Let us thank God for our Diocesan Priests, for the men and women Religious, for our dedicated Catechists and Catholic Teachers and for all the other categories of our laity for their respective contributions in the work of evangelisation in this Archdiocese. I would like to continue to count on all of you for the harvest is great but the labourers are few.
Once more I am grateful to all of you who have come to celebrate this day with us. May God bless you abundantly and accompany you back home safely.
Conclusion: A Prayer
22. Permit me to conclude with a paraphrase of the beautiful Pastoral Prayer of the Venerable Aelred, Abbot of Rievaulx, which I dare to make my own.
O Good Shepherd Jesus,
Good, gentle, tender Shepherd,
Behold a shepherd, poor and pitiful,
A shepherd of your sheep indeed,
But weak and clumsy and of little use, cries out to you.
To you, I say, Good Shepherd,
This shepherd, who is not good, makes his prayer.
He cries to you, troubled upon his own account, and troubled for your sheep?..
Teach me your servant, therefore, Lord,
Teach me, I pray you, by your Holy Spirit,
How to devote myself to them and
How to spend myself on their behalf.
Give me, by your unutterable grace,
The power to bear with their shortcomings patiently,
To share their grief in loving sympathy,
And to afford them help according to their needs ?..
Teach me to suit myself to everyone according to his nature,
Character and disposition,
According to his power of understanding or his lack of it,
As time and place require, in each case, as you would have me do?
You know, Lord,
I do not want to rule them harshly or self-assertively,
But to help them in charity,
Rather than command,
And to be subject to them in humility,
While being always one of them in sympathy?.
Be in their midst,
According to your faithful promise.
And, since you know what each of them needs,
I pray you, strengthen what is weak in them.
Spurn not their frailty, heal that which is diseased,
Give joy for sorrow,
Kindle what is lukewarm,
Establish what is insecure in them,
That each of them
May know he does not lack your grace
In any of his trials and temptations?
I, for my part,
Commit them into your holy hands and loving providence
May no one snatch them from your hands,
Nor from your servant?s,
Unto whom you have committed them.
May they persevere with gladness in their holy purpose,
Unto the attainment of everlasting life with you,
Our most sweet Lord,
Their Helper always,
Who lives and reigns to ages of ages. Amen.