Cardinal who worked for peace in Cameroon has died

Cardinal Christian Tumi Screenshot from a video of Cardinal Christian Tumi taken while he was held captive overnight in Nov. 2020.

Cardinal Christian Wiyghan Tumi, Cameroon’s first cardinal and a dedicated advocate for peace in the country’s Anglophone crisis, has died at the age of 90.

Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala announced in a letter on the morning of April 3 that the cardinal had died.

Tumi had been active in seeking a peaceful resolution to Cameroon’s violent Anglophone crisis. He dedicated much of the decade after his retirement as archbishop of Douala to peace efforts and is credited with helping to create the Anglophone General Conference, a framework for dialogue between all parties to the conflict.

The cardinal made headlines last November when he was kidnapped by armed separatists in Cameroon’s Northwest Region.

He was held overnight by his captors, who recorded a video of the cardinal being interrogated.

In the video, one of Tumi’s captors confronted the cardinal about his calls for fighters in Cameroon to lay down their arms and then instructed him to share the separatists’ message with the public.

To this, the cardinal responded: “I will preach what is the truth with pastoral conviction and Biblical conviction.”

“Nobody has the right to tell me to preach the contrary because I was called by God,” Cardinal Tumi said.

At another point in the video, the cardinal told his captors: “When I speak, I speak like a pastor and that I can never stop doing. If I stop doing that, then I will not be faithful to God, the Almighty.”

Tumi's kidnapping came amid a conflict between separatists and government forces in the English-speaking territories in Cameroon’s Northwest Region and Southwest Region.

The crisis in Cameroon is rooted in conflict between the English- and French-speaking areas of Cameroon. The area was a German colony in the late 19th century, but the territory was divided into British and French mandates after the German Empire’s defeat in World War I. The mandates were united in an independent Cameroon in 1961.

Tensions escalated in 2016 after Francophone teachers and judges were sent to work in the historically marginalized Anglophone regions, and the dispute has come to be known as the Anglophone crisis.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin visited Cameroon in February and said that the Holy See is working to see an end to the protracted conflict in the two Anglophone regions.

“I am here to show the attention and solidarity of the Holy Father Pope Francis towards the Cameroonian people, especially in these difficult moments,” Parolin said.

Cardinal Tumi was born in what is now Northwest Cameroon on Oct. 15, 1930. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1966 in the diocese of Buéa.

He studied in Nigeria and the United Kingdom before going on to earn a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from a Catholic institute in Lyon, France and a further degree in philosophy from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.

Tumi served as a bishop in Francophone regions of the country from 1979. He was president of Cameroon’s bishops’ conference from 1985 to 1991 and president of the Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) from 1990 to 1994.

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Pope John Paul II named him a cardinal in 1988 and three years later appointed him archbishop of Douala, a post he held until his retirement in 2009.

Cardinal Tumi received the Nelson Mandela Prize in July 2019 for his efforts in promoting peace and human rights.

Tumi published a memoir in at the end of 2020 entitled, “My night in captivity,” in which he wrote: “All I want is for the guns to fall silent and for peace to return to the country.”

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