Gratitude is the response of people who are intensely aware of God’s intervention in their lives. Thanksgiving is a joyous recognition of God’s goodness and power in the lives of his children.
It is a fundamental reaction of the people when they discover the loving intervention of God in the events of their lives. Gratitude to God is the surest way of drawing God into our hearts. This is a home-coming celebration. Is it possible that Church men can fall prey too to this home-coming celebration?
In Cameroon’s political jargon, home-coming is reserved for illustrious sons and daughters of the village or tribe who, after they have received appointments to key positions in government, are welcomed back home. They come in their Pajeros and Prados to celebrate and commune with their militants. Is there any difference between these rallies and our celebration today?
I am not in a position to state the differences of our homecoming, but I can readily say that in the Bible and in the life of the Church, people do celebrate home-coming and therefore, we are not afraid to celebrate home-coming today.
In Luke 4:16-19 we read, “Then Jesus went to Nazareth where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath he went as usual to the synagogue. He stood up to read the scripture… He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written: ‘The sprit of the Lord is upon me because he has chosen me to bring the good news to the poor…’ Jesus rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down.
All the people in the synagogue had their eyes fixed on Him, as he said to them. ‘This passage of scripture has come true today, as you heard it being read.’ They were all well impressed with Him and marvelled and said, “Is this not the son of Joseph?” This year from the 9th to the 14th of September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI, like his predecessor, made a five-day visit to Bavaria and his native land of Germany.
This is what he said on the occasion of his home-coming. “Today with great emotion I set foot, for the first time since my elevation to the Chair of Saint Peter, on German and Bavarian soil. I return to my homeland and among my own people in order to visit certain places of fundamental importance in my life.
The purpose of the visit is precisely because I want to again, see the places where I grew up, the people who touched and shaped my life. Naturally, I also want to express a message that goes beyond my tribe, my village, just as my new ministry calls me to do. The basic message is that, we have to rediscover God, not just any God, the God who became man at Bethlehem-Jesus Christ.
I think that this visit is an opportunity for us to see that believing is beautiful, that the joy of a huge universal community possesses a transcendental strength, that behind this belief lies something important and that together with the new searching movements, there are also new outlets of faith that lead us from one to the other.” (L’Osseravatore Romano, of 30th August,2006, P. 6) We see from the Bible and from the experience of the Church that, there is a place for home-coming after all; even if the Church’s home-coming takes on a mere religious and spiritual emphasis as did Jesus in Nazareth and Pope Benedict XVI in Germany.
Today, I come to Njinikom, not ready or fit to compare myself to Christ or our Holy Father, but I come all the same, as if on a pilgrimage to celebrate the gift of Faith, with the people of Kom and of Kumbo. After the euphoria of my Episcopal appointment and ordination at Kumbo, it is right and fitting that we gather here at Njinikom today again in our numbers to celebrate.
This is not a political or regional celebration. This is primarily a celebration of our one Faith in the Lord Jesus and we must use this opportunity to underline it. I remember this conversation or remark from someone who met me shortly after my appointment. He may even be in this crowd. He said, “I am a Bikom Man and I am happy that we too have a Bishop today.
We have waited for too long but it does not matter. I am not even a Catholic, I do not know very much about Bishops in the Catholic Church. All I know is that we have longed for one and today we too have a Bishop and that is a great honour for our people full stop. That is why I am here and will take a second beer because this is a great honour to our people.”
Sure enough there would be many like him who express the same or maybe even stronger feelings or sentiments about the appointment of a Bishop. Today gives us a chance to reflect and pray and maybe purify and correct our sometimes mistaken and confused type of honour attached to the office of a Bishop.
The best person to speak to us about Episcopal honour is Pope John Paul II himself. This is what he says: “The call to become a Bishop is certainly a great honour. This does not mean, however, that he is chosen for having distinguished himself among many others as an outstanding person and Christian.
This honour comes from his mission to stand at the heart of the church as the first in Faith, first in love, first in fidelity and first in service. If someone seeks in the Episcopal office honour for its own sake, he will not be able to fulfil his Episcopal mission well. The first and most important aspect of the honour due to a Bishop, lies in the responsibility associated with his ministry. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden (Mtt: 5:14.)
The Bishop is always on a mountain, always on a lamp-stand, visible to all. He must always be aware that whatever happens in his life takes greater meaning in his community. And all the eyes looked intensely at him. ( Lk. 4: 20) Just as a father shapes the Faith of his children primarily by his example of prayer and religious fervour, so also a Bishop inspires his faithful by his behaviour.” (John Paul II, Rise, Let us Be On Our Way, P.45-46.)
There is no shortage of teaching of what a Bishop is to the Church: The Church teaches: – “The Bishop is called in a particular way to be a prophet, witness and servant of hope. He has the duty of instilling confidence and proclaiming before all people the basis of Christian hope.” (Pastores Gregis, No3) – “They are pastors who have a sense of people’s aspirations and can take them up, purify them and interpret them in the light of the Gospel, and for this reason, they have a future to build together with the people entrusted to their care.” (Ho Pastores Gregis, No 25) – The Bishop will always strive to relate to his priests as a father and brother who loves them, welcomes them, corrects them, listens to them, seeks their co-operation and , as much as possible, is concerned for their human, spiritual, ministerial and financial well-being.” (Pastores Gregis No. 47.)
There is a lot to be said about who a Bishop is apart from the honour we may be tempted to highlight. I have tested it for three months, and I can readily say it is not easy, it is not sweet, it is full of challenges, of heavy responsibilities and unimaginable calls to sacrifice. That is why today I take the responsibility to invite you.
Pray for me; pray that I may be a bishop not after honour but truly after the mind and heart of Christ, the Good Shepherd. Now that we know what a Bishop is. Now it is time to ask: What does God expect from people who now claim they have a Bishop?
What does the Church expect from a people from among whom, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has chosen one of theirs to be a successor of the apostles for the Church which is in Kumbo? What must we expect from each other; now that this honour is ours? Let me begin by sharing with you my personal life experience. It is an experience about which many of you must have read in Fr. Andrew Nkea’s story, “The Hidden Woman Behind Mgr. Nkuo.”
In the October, 2006 issue of Cameroon Panorama. Records in the achieves of the Tertiary Sisters of St. Francis, show that their first group of sisters arrived at Njinikom on the 8th of January 1953.
I was the first to be born at their maternity on the 28th of January 1953 and my midwife was Mother Camilla Geier of blessed memory. On the 16th of August 1953, Mother Assumpta Niederstatter arrived at the Njinikom Convent. Her arrival made a turning point in my life. It was she who brought me to Shisong in October 1967.
She had found a woman called Maria Heiss in a remote village called Pens in Bozen, Italy, who wanted to do something for God for having saved her life in a difficult delivery. This woman from her nothingness sponsored me through the Seminary and in the last twenty five years of my priestly ministry she continued to support me.
I was never privileged to meet her until July, 2006 after my appointment as the Bishop of Kumbo and I was in Rome for my first time. My visit or home-coming at Pens shocked me in many ways. Her home was as bare and empty as many homes here at Njinikom. In 2006, she had literally nothing you could call the goods of this world, but she had the only thing that mattered. She had a heart rich and full of faith.
She had a heart full of love. She had nothing but she had a faith and love and she has produced a Bishop. My message to you all-never you say you cannot do something great for God. If you have a heart of faith and love like hers, you can do marvels for God. You can produce many Bishops if you imitate her faith, in her love, in her deep prayer life and in her generosity.
I am your Bishop because she did it for me, let others become servants of Christ tomorrow because you too sacrificed and prayed for them. How do we measure greatness? Is it found in power, fame, fortune or the outstanding achievements of men and women who selflessly work on behalf of others?
Perhaps greatness is a combination of all these in various measures. Israel was called to be a “great nation” from the time of Abraham.. She would be Yahweh’s instrument for the salvation of the whole world. Israel was to be a great nation because of what God was to do through her. Her greatness was a gift from Yahweh, who chose her to be His own.
Israel, for her part, was to remain faithful to the covenant. The greatness of Israel was her relationship with Yahweh as the God who cares and is involved in her history. Today we all can testify that the Lord has also been involved in our history. Let us respond to his love by becoming more faithful to him as a people.
Second Message: Trusting God’s Timing
My second message goes to that my Kom friend who congratulated me and said that honour had come even though belated. To him and to all who think like him: Human nature tends to want all things right now.
We are always in a hurry. When we pray for our dreams to come to pass, we want them to be fulfilled immediately. But we must know that God has an appointed time to answer our prayers and to bring our dreams to pass. And the truth is, no matter how badly we need it sooner, no matter how much we pray and plead with God, it is not going to change his appointed time.
It is still going to happen on God’s timetable. We sometimes get frustrated and we cry: “God, when are you going to change my husband? When are you going to give me a marriage partner? God, when is my business going to take off? When are my dreams going to come to pass? When you understand God’s timing, you would not panic.
You can relax knowing that God is in control. He is going to make it happen. It may be next week, next year or ten years from now. But whenever it is, you can rest assured that it will be in God’s perfect timing. God is not like a machine where you punch in the right codes and receive what you requested.
No! We all have to wait patiently. That is part of learning to trust God. You may be wondering today, “I have been praying and making novenas and waiting, but it seems God is not doing anything about my marriage, about my job. That difficult situation at work has not changed. None of my dreams is coming to pass.
Today, we proclaim that God is at work in our lives whether we can see anything happening externally or not. Today, we also learn that you can be in the biggest challenge of your life, but when you are in God’s timing, God will give you all the grace that you need. If you learn to trust his timing, he will bring your dreams to pass and answer your prayers.
The answer will come, and it will be right on time. Third Message: God speaks to us through the events in our life. We take the opportunity to listen to his voice in our heart. What is He saying to us about our faith in Jesus Christ? What is He saying to us about our families? What is He saying to the Kom people Now?
God still loves you. Love one another. My motto is, “God is Love.” (Deus Caristas Est.) Do not be only experts at writing petitions against one another, do not use your political dreams and ambitions to divide and promote hatred for one another. Do not use religion as a weapon to divide and destroy each other. Do not take delight in pulling each other down for only selfish reasons. Do not use your position to exploit, to harm, to cheat and make the poor poorer.
In the Gospel of today , we have the story of Mary’s visitation of her cousin , Elisabeth. During that visitation Elisabeth spoke these lovely words to her, “blessed is she who believed that the promise made to her by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
Wonderful things happen for those who believe. You could say that the central theme of the Gospel is, the blessedness of those who believe. All of Jesus’ preaching had as its aim to elicit faith in peoples’ hearts.
However, it is not simply a matter of believing, but of believing and acting on that belief. It is a question of hearing the word and doing it- taking risks on it, and making sacrifices because of it. You sometimes hear people say, “It is easy for you, you have great faith.” But it is not like that. Faith does not always make things easy.
In fact, the opposite is more likely to be the case. It is because we have faith that we refuse to give up. It is because we have faith that we can say, “I am sorry.” Faith impels us to persevere, to struggle on often with no guarantee of a happy outcome. A person with faith never gives up.
Again today in the Gospel, God chose two ordinary women. There were two peasant women who journeyed on foot, sharing their hopes and dreams with each other. One was a barren old woman and the other, a young girl. He did not choose heroes. But they have become our heroes in Faith.
Today, if we want to know whom we consider our heroes we can go to the newspapers, to the internet and to the television and see what they are talking about. These heroes are most often the rich and the famous-political heavyweights, sports stars, or famous wealthy people. But God’s ways are very different. He chose a very simple young girl and an old barren woman, born of simple faith and trust in God. They are not chosen because they are wealthy and famous or even from Royal Stock.
God chose them as ordinary people, who do ordinary things and He did the extraordinary with them. They are our unlikely heroes. God chooses each one of us as ordinary folks, to be extraordinary by our actions in faith. And God gives us role models in faith such as Mary and Elisabeth to learn from. We are called to follow Mary’s example of faith.
Today, we remember with deep gratitude all the great men and women of faith who have handed down the faith to us in this Land. We thank God for all the missionaries who made tremendous sacrifices to bring us the light of faith. We cannot forget the teachers and the dedicated and Charismatic Catechists like Andreas Ngongbi, who were willing to take risks because they trusted in God that this day might come true.
Today, I can confidently attribute the following passage from (Heb. 11:13) to them all: “All these (our ancestors) died in faith before receiving any of the things that had been promised, but they saw them in their far distance and welcomed them, recognising that they were only strangers and nomads on earth.”
To this list I wish to humbly add my beloved parent, Papa Ferdinand Nkuo and Mama Catherine Fuam. May they all enjoy the eternal reward prepared for them from all eternity. This is our act of faith. Today, it is with us that God chooses to make his kingdom become a reality. May we be the new unlikely heroes of faith by doing the ordinary things of life with joy and peace in our hearts, knowing that God will do the extraordinary.
Today, I want to personally thank all of you who have come to pray and celebrate with us. I sincerely thank all those who took up the challenge to organise this beautiful home-coming celebration.
I know how much it has caused you all to plan, prepare and make this day a memorable one. I have no doubt that God will bless and reward you abundantly. In this Eucharist, Jesus comes to enter into our lives. Let us welcome Him as our master and saviour.
May this Christmas and the Eucharist mark the beginning of a new life with him, and may we become true ministers and servants of Christ and his message to the world, now and forever.