Membership in a small Franciscan order is booming in Cameroon after only ten years in the country. One of its brothers says its spiritual commitment has a “deep social impact” in the life of its members and in the life of the African country.
The Franciscans of the Emmanuel, founded in Montreal, Canada in 1985, has 75 members. About 60 of them are now based in Cameroon.
Speaking to the charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in a visit to its headquarters in Germany, Br. Denis-Antoine said the order arrived in the African country after a diocesan priest from Nkongsamba city in the west read about the order in a newspaper and requested that they help a group of parishioners who desired to live the spirituality of St. Francis.
“At the request of the (diocesan) bishop, we came and started to form a fraternity of lay members. With time, the groups have expanded, established themselves and multiplied,” he reported.
Several of the young lay members soon asked to become friars. Br. Denis-Antoine said he arrived in Cameroon with a young lay brother from Canada to begin the first house of formation there.
“With the help of benefactors, including ACN, the brothers built the friary with 18 bedrooms and the facilities for the community and its mission,” he explained.
The growing community in Nkongsamba has 17 friars in formation to become consecrated members. Eight are already professed.
They are being trained for duties in health care, catechesis, agriculture and farming. The community is also involved in parish work such as youth and prison chaplaincy. It ministers to the poorest members of society.
At the local bishop’s request, the Franciscans have established a spiritual center to host retreats and formation sessions for groups from across the country.
The order’s service has also expanded into the neighboring dioceses of Bafoussam and Douala. In Douala the order recently began a lay fraternity composed mainly of young adults.
There are plans to open a friary there next year. Br. Denis-Antoine told ACN that these will help the Franciscans’ regular mission and will take charge of an existing orphanage of 30 children. The order is also working to establish a dispensary and a maternity house in one of Douala’s poor neighborhoods.
“The main message that we want to leave to you is that we are there, present with the people, hoping to give them this testimony of the life of the Gospel in the footsteps of our father, St Francis,” the Franciscan brother continued.
He explained that a spiritual commitment to the evangelical life has a “deep social impact” both in the life of individuals committed to it and in the life of society.
He also expressed “heartfelt gratitude” for the help of ACN, which supported the order’s first friary in Cameroon and its spiritual center.
“Thanks to ACN and all the benefactors for the previous help received and for listening to this new call for support, giving us the opportunity to be your hands and heart to the people of Africa.”