The Diocese of Mamfe has directed that prayers of thanksgiving be said for the release on Saturday of nine people who were abducted in September from a local parish.

The nine were released Oct. 22.

“I urge each of you to pray a decade of the rosary in thanksgiving to God for the safe release of our brothers and sisters who were kidnapped,” Bishop Aloysius Fondong Abangalo of Mamfe said in an Oct. 23 statement to the diocese.

“I am sincerely grateful to all those who joined us in this collective effort in praying for the safety and release of our brothers and sisters,” he said, adding: “Words will only do scant justice in expressing my sentiments of gratitude to all those who collaborated with us in the process of negotiating for their safety and release.”

On Sept. 16, unidentified gunmen attacked St. Mary parish in Nchang, in Cameroon’s Southwest Region. Nine people were abducted and buildings on the parish premises, including the church, were burned down. 

The attackers kidnapped Father Elias Okorie, Father Barnabas Ashu, Father Cornelius Jingwa, Father Job Francis Nwobegu, Father Emmanuel Asaba, Sister Jacinta C. Udeagha, Nkem Patrick Osang (an assistant catechist), Blanche Bright, and Mme. Kelechukwu.

In his statement announcing their release, Abangalo said: “Permit me to use this opportunity to commend your collective efforts at prayer.”

“I seize this opportunity, once again, to condemn the act of desecrating the church, in the strongest terms possible, and to decry the need for the enhancement of human dignity.” 

“Taking away the freedom of our fellow brothers and sisters in order to make money at all cost is inhuman and should be desisted from whoever engages in such,” the Cameroonian bishop said.

More in Middle East - Africa

“For those who make utterances — categorical or implicit — which fuel such actions, I suppose it is time to rethink your approach and ensure that the dignity of the human person is upheld in every way possible,” he added.

The release of the nine abductees came days after a video emerged on social media showing them asking Abangalo to secure their release.

On Oct. 24 Abangalo announced that a Mass of thanksgiving for the release of the captives was to be said the following day at the cathedral in Mamfe.

The arson attack on St. Mary parish is one of the latest incidents in the context of Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis.

The crisis 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.

There is now a separatist movement in the Southwest and Northwest Regions, which were formerly the British Southern Cameroons.

Unrest in Cameroon has been ongoing since 2016, when the country’s Anglophone community began protests to demand the return of federalism.

(Story continues below)

Secessionist militants in the English-speaking region of Cameroon have also sought violence against government forces and began attacking military troops in 2017.