Aleteia provides an overview of some recent 21st-century martyrs.
9) Cameroon: Death to the bishop?
The enemies of the Church sometimes are proud of having killed Christians; other times, they hide it, washing the blood off their hands. The latter case seems to explain the violent death of the bishop John Paul II had chosen for Bafia, Cameroon.
He was known all over the country for his missionary spirit, which had led him to found parishes, to promote Christian schools, and to introduce into liturgical celebrations the balafon, a kind of xylophone typical of traditional African music.
On the night between May 30 and 31, 2017, the bishop left his residence after receiving a phone call. Inside his vehicle, which appeared the next day on a bridge over the Sanaga river, a note was found, which said “I am in the water.” This somewhat surreal text would seem to indicate that it’s a device to fake a suicide. Three days later, his body appeared in the river.
According to the first results of the investigation, the bishop’s body had been thrown into the water after being tortured and killed. However, on July 4 the attorney general of Cameroon presented a report stating that the most probable explanation was that the bishop died of suicide by drowning.
Four days later, Bishop Samuel Kleda, Archbishop of Douala and president of the Cameroon Episcopal Conference, declared that he did not agree with the attorney general’s conclusions, and confirmed that “Bishop Jean Marie Benoît Bala was brutally assassinated.” In July, the Episcopal Conference decided to file charges against unknown culprits for the bishop’s death.
On August 3, the provisional successor of the bishop as diocesan administrator, Bishop Joseph Akonga Essomba, decalred that the bishop’s killers enjoy the protection of members of the government.
On August 28, the bishop’s tomb in the Cathedral of Saint Sebastian in Bafia was desecrated. The profanation is being investigated, as the case of his death is still open at the attorney general’s office in Yaoundé.
The lack of clarity in the investigation of the death of Bishop Bala reminds us that many other Catholic missionaries have also been murdered in recent decades in Cameroon, without the perpetrators ever being found.
Such is the case, for example, of one of Bishop Bala’s closest collaborators, the rector of the minor seminary of Saint Andrew in Bafia, Fr. Armel Djama, who was found dead in suspicious circumstances.
Other examples of Catholic missionaries who died tragically and without the guilty parties being identified are Bishop Yves Plumey, archbishop emeritus of Garoua (1991); Fr. Joseph Mbassi, editor of the Catholic publication “L’Effort camerounnais” (1988); Jesuit theologian Engelbert Mveng (1995); French religious Germaine Marie Husband and Marie Léone Bordy, who ran a dispensary at a Catholic mission (1992); and Fr. Apollinaire Cloude Ndi, pastor of a church near Yaoundé (2001). Since 2010, many parishes and pastors have suffered attacks, which often met with silence from civil authorities.
In Cameroon, the murder of Christians is presented as suicide, even though nobody seems to believe it.