A Fugitive Returns Home


It is 7:30 in the morning of January 1, 1993. Christian Cardinal Tumi, the Archbishop of Douala in Cameroon, has summoned his Christians, and all men and women of goodwill, to join him in what he has called a “March for Peace” around our city. He is a heavily-built man, with an impressive height, and an ever-contagious smile on his lips, with a voice that carries far and wide. His numerous admirers applaud him as a fearless preacher of peace, who openly denounces the violation of our people’s basic rights by politicians, seasoned in intolerance.  To his equally powerful detractors, however, he is a mere intruder into the political arena from the sacristy, where they believe he rightfully belongs.

It is the first time I am meeting him and, as a journalist, I expect him to give a press conference to explain the purpose of this march. I am hoping that he will, in his characteristic boldness, denounce leaders who refuse to “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (Is 2:4), preferring violence over good governance. We always tremble for him because many of his fellow priests and religious men and women, who have dared to condemn the wrong doings of those in power, have been assassinated, and no one has ever been held accountable.

He arrives, blesses the crowd and a pick-up truck bearing a beautifully-bedecked statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Shortly thereafter, the pick-up truck begins to slowly move out of the church courtyard onto the main street with Cardinal Tumi and some priests and altar servers in tow. They are followed by the crowd, that has been growing by the minute. I am disappointed that he has not addressed the press, thus depriving me of a good story for my paper.

In moments like these in our country, it is not rare for a baton-wielding police force, in bullet-proof vests, to forcefully intervene, often leaving our sidewalks caked by blood from split skulls and broken limbs. But the police are nowhere in sight. I am at a loss as to what to do. Should I follow the crowd or go back home? After some hesitation, and guided perhaps by the Holy Spirit, I decide to follow the crowd.

Christians are marching according to their parishes, some being led by their priests, dressed in soutane. Many Christians are praying and telling the beads of their rosary. I feel a nudge of guilt because I seem to be the only one without a rosary. Even though I am a cradle Catholic, it’s been long since I practiced my faith. Just then an inner voice whispers in my ear: “You too should be praying in this crowd with your own rosary, you know.” I look up, a little startled by that voice. As I listen to the prayers around me, it suddenly dawns on me that I have forgotten such simple prayers as “Our Father”, “Hail Mary,” or “Glory be the Father.” A tinge of guilt feeling begins to crawl over me.

Several hours later, with the suffocatingly-humid Douala heat enveloping us like foam, we arrive, drenched in sweat, at Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral where the Cardinal talks about peace. “Let peace begin with each of us. It is only when we have inner peace that we can extend such peace to our families, which are the domestic church and the microcosm of our society. From there, we can then spread it to our city of Douala and to our country as a whole.”

Although I drive past this cathedral to and from work everyday, this is the first time I have set foot in it. I feel like an outsider. It’s an uncomfortable feeling. Are these people not wondering what I am doing here? I look around guiltily but no one seems to notice my presence. A voice floats into my inner ear asking, “Where do you think you can flee beyond the reach of the Lord? In the depths of the sea, his hand is there to scoop you up. In the storms, his hand will reach out and protect you. In the thick dark clouds, his hand will bring you back home safely (Ps 139). You are no outsider. Take your rightful place in his house where you belong!” I bow because it is not easy to remain a fugitive from God’s grip of love.

(First published in Evangelization and Culture, The Journal of the Word on Fire Institute, Issue No 18/Conversion, Winter 2023, pp. 34-35).

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