Cameroon appears to be a treasured papal destination with three visits in 14 years. No mean feat for any nation.
Many might have taken the visit of Benedict XVI to Cameroon in March 2009 as a mere formality, coming on the heels of what his predecessor John Paul II had done by visiting twice in a decade. But it takes divine blessing indeed to enjoy such a privilege. In choosing Cameroon for one of his first outings and the first on African soil since the beginning of his pontificate, Benedict XV1 was making no mistake.
When his Alitalia aircraft touched down at the Nsimalen airport on the hot afternoon of March 17, 2009, he met with a hilarious welcome group made up of thousands of Christians across the ideological divide. The massive turnout was for good reason. The people could not remain indifferent to this special honour; to papal solicitude. They were not unaware of the fact that the visit was a rare privilege. For three days, the Pope was among us. He, among other commitments, said a mass at which he delivered the Instrumentum Laboris, a document he had come to hand over to African Bishops as they prepared for their special assembly in view of the Synod of Bishops that was to hold in Rome that year.
He also prayed with other worshippers at an evening prayer session at the Mvolyé Basilica and met with the physically-challenged at the Cardinal Paul Emile Leger Centre for the Handicapped at the Etoug-Ebe neighbourhood. He further conferred with the Bishops of Cameroon and representatives of other religious movements in the country.
The people of Cameroon could not have been less thankful. The President of the Republic summarised this national mood when he simply told the Holy Father in a welcome statement at the airport that "We thank you for coming to be with us...Permit me to see in your visit a mark of mutual affection between Your Holiness and the Cameroonian people". And the Pope obliged, describing our country as a "land of hope for many men and women of the Central African sub-region running away from conflict."
Benedict XV1, as pastor of the universal church, left an important message as he flew out of Cameroon for Angola, his next stop on the African visit. "Take the message of reconciliation, healing and peace to your communities and your societies", he said in an airport departure message, also calling on Cameroonians to "work to eliminate injustice, poverty and hunger wherever it is found".
The Catholic Church hierarchy in Cameroon cannot be indifferent to the strong influence the pontificate of Benedict XV1 has had on its growth. Of the 25 dioceses of the church in Cameroon today, about half have either had new Bishops. In the year following his taking office, he appointed Mgr George Nkuo as Bishop of Kumbo on July 5, 2006, although his first act had actually been the appointment of Mgr Cornelius Esua as metropolitan Archbishop of Bamenda on January 6, 2006.
Mgr Immanuel Bushu was appointed to Buea on November 30, 2006 and the next year on November 3, 2007, he appointed Mgr Samuel Kleda as the Co-Adjutor Archbishop of Douala. He was to take full possession of the seat on November 17, 2009. In 2008, he created the diocese of Kribi and appointed Monsignor Joseph Befe Ateba as first Bishop on June 19, 2008. Bishop Christophe Zoa was moved from Yaounde to Sangmelima as Bishop on December 4, 2008.
Earlier on May 31, 2008, he appointed Mgr Barthelemy Yaouda as Bishop of Yagoua. The year 2009 was full of bounties. On December 3, he appointed Mgr Joseph Atanga as Metropolitan Archbishop of Bertoua and named Fathers Faustin Ambassa and Leopold Sosthene Bayemi Matjei as Bishops of Batouri and Obala, respectively. His most recent acts where in 2012 when he appointed Fathers Dieudonné Espoir Atangana and Abraham Komé as Bishops of Nkongsamba and Bafang, respectively.
Under his pontificate, Cameroon has also experienced an exponential growth in the number of tertiary educational institutions. Trends are in the upturn. Church houses are attracting more and more adherents, little wonder with just over five million members, the Catholic Church in Cameroon today accounts for about 27 percent of the population.