Nwachukwu Egbunike (reporting from Yaoundé, Cameroon)
Pope Benedict XVI literally presided over a solemn Eucharistic Celebration of the Solemnity of St Joseph (his Patron Saint) in the boat of Peter at Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaoundé, Cameroon, on Thursday, March 19, 2009. It was in the boat of Peter, because the sanctuary was designed as such and the liturgy which was witnessed by about 100,000 Catholics was deeply African.
People were already at the gates of the stadium as early as 3.00am. Even at that, many people were not able to gain entry into the stadium. Personally, I think this was a fall-out of the lack of organisation of the Cameroonian authorities who seem to derive joy from subjecting their citizens to the heights of degradation. I was really amazed that the trite sense of leaving the gates open did not even occur to the authorities. At the same time, the Cameroonians appeared to be quite subdued and never seemed to react: a direct opposite of the Nigerian aggressive trait that would rather have the gates broken than stand for more than five hours and eventually by denied entry!
The Pope Mobile gracefully glided into the stadium by 10.00am to the deafening cheer of the faithful. The stadium actually reverberated as the mobile made its round, with the Pope acknowledging the greetings of Africans, not only from Cameroon, but from Nigeria, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Chad and Central African Republic, to mention a few countries.
The mass was celebrated in four languages (French, English, Ewondo and Latin), a reflection of the cultural beauty of Cameroon. The choir (almost 400 people) sang and danced; an interlacing of men, women and children. The liturgy was soaked with a rich African wisdom that has assimilated the faith. For instance, the incensing was done with an aluminium pot with coals which was carried by four young men. The gospel acclamation had the trappings of royalty. First, one of the choristers gave a high-pitched squall – usually associated in these parts with the announcement of the coming of a king – immediately after which the gospel was carried in by four pall-bearers and accompanied by cheer-leaders.
Benedict XVI was certainly at home as was reflected in his homily. The Pope reminded the faithful to be proud of those values that make the continent tick. Specifically, he made reference to the fact that the birth of a child usually heralds celebration. This, he said, should not be taken for granted but, rather should be strengthened. He counselled that the culture of excessive materialism and degradation of life should be strongly resisted.
The Eucharistic Celebration was attended by the President and First Lady of Cameroon, Paul and Chantal Biya and other secular authorities. Pope Benedict also presented the official document – Instrumentum Laboris – of the Synod of Bishops of Africa and Madagascar to the presidents of Episcopal Conferences. Archbishop John Onyikan of Abuja received on behalf of Nigeria. The pope also made a gift of a chalice to the Archbishop of Yaoundé.