A tribute to Cameroon’s first Anglophone Jesuit priest, Father Emmanuel Etem Nkeng, sj.

A tribute given at his funeral Mass at the Our Lady of Annunciation Parish in Bonamoussadi, Douala, on April 03, 2023.

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord:

The Regional Coordinator of the Christian Life Community (CLC) in Douala, Mr. Jean de Dieu Tempa, asked me to say a word on behalf of all our members during the funeral of Father Emmanuel Nkeng, SJ.  I began by asking members of our local CLC communities, through our forum, if any of them had Father Emmanuel Nkeng as their spiritual director, spiritual direction being an integral part of the CLC spirituality. The answer was negative, but some members, although not accompanied by him, still remembered him in glowing terms. One member, for example, remembered when he was in the first year at Libermann College when Father Emmanuel taught English at that school. For him, Father Emmanuel was a “rigorous teacher and a great animator who cared about doing things the right way.”  Another remembered Father Emmanuel as “a man of peace and a good listener” who always facilitated the meetings of CLC members by giving them a quiet space at Libermann College when he, Fr. Emmanuel, was the Superior of that community.

As the first English-speaking Jesuit in Cameroon, Father Emmanuel did everything in his power to open the Society of Jesus to Anglophones. The late Father Ignatius Fominyen Musi, SJ, our then parish priest, personally told me that he owed much of his vocation to Father Emmanuel who encouraged him and admitted him to the novitiate in Bafoussam. For his part, Father Kizito Forbi, SJ, one of the early Anglophone Jesuit priests, told me that he, Father Emmanuel, took his role as the first English-speaking Jesuit in the country very seriously, encouraging English-speaking Jesuits, still coming in fresh, not to be discouraged by the problems of adapting to a new culture and to hold on to their vocation no matter the obstacles on their way. The growing number of English speakers now knocking on the doors of the Society of Jesus is due in large part to his encouragement. He died leaving behind an unfinished task that was very dear to him, namely, his great desire to see the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) establish a foothold in the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province. In fact, he had already practically acquired the green light from the local Ordinary, the now retired Archbishop of Bamenda, His Grace Cornelius Fontem Esua, for the Jesuits to settle in the Archdiocese of Bamenda. One parish, that of Ndop, had already practically been ceded to the Jesuits. Unfortunately, the painful events that have been tearing apart the northwest and southwest regions of our country for several years now have disrupted everything.  It is our hope that the Jesuit Superior will not abandon this project that was so dear to the late Father Emmanuel.

One day, after my first 8-day spiritual retreat with the Ignatian group in Yaoundé, I told him about the experience I had and how much I had benefited from it. I suggested that it would not be a bad idea for other English speakers of our parish to know more about the Christian Life Community (CLC) and the Ignatian spirituality sustaining it.  He was happy to hear me praise the fruits of the retreats and he accepted my proposal to invite other English speakers to join the school of St. Ignatius. During the Sunday Mass, which he himself presided, he invited those interested in learning to pray according to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to attend the training session he was organising.  A handful of people showed up, but after a few such meetings, illness got the better of him and the small group, despite individual efforts, unfortunately scattered.  When the shepherd is struck, the flock scatters!

As a member of the English-speaking community of Our Lady of the Annunciation Parish, I, like other parishioners, met him quite frequently, both individually and collectively. At the individual level, he was a great listener of my programmes on Radio Veritas, especially the “Word Among Us”, a programme on the meditation on the Sunday readings. From time to time, he would call me to give me his opinion on the form and content of that programme.  He advised me to always include hope for our people in the programme despite the current difficulties we are facing. He always reminded me that the sick on their hospital beds, the refugees fleeing the war raging in the northwest and southwest regions of our country, should always feel when listening to my programme that there is hope at the end of this tunnel that has been so blackened by hatred and violence.

He entrusted my wife, Hermine, and I with the mission of counselling the English-speaking youth of our parish as they prepare for marriage. He was always eager to ensure that those to whom he entrusted a mission were well apt to handle it; that was why he invited us to the Spiritual Center, where he was practically bedridden, to present us with marriage counselling documents: both physical documents and videos. Even from his sick bed, that intense pastor’s desire for young people to be well prepared to embrace their married life, as Mother Church requires, could still be felt in Father Emmanuel.

On another purely personal level, I remember the day when he and our then Parish Priest, the late Father Ignatius Musi, SJ, came to visit us to express their condolences after the death of my elder brother from an illness, and that of my brother-in-law, Hermine’s junior brother, who was killed by a hit-and-run drunk driver, on the same day. They came with a cake and a pizza, both prepared by Father Emmanuel himself, the good cook that he was. They blessed the cake and the pizza, broke them and shared them and we ate them together with great joy. It was the Eucharist shared with my family at a very difficult time for us.

Hermine and I went to visit him at the Provincial House just three weeks before his death. We talked about the cake and the pizza and he promised to make more as soon as he felt better. He was in good spirits and we left with joy in our hearts thinking he was getting better and better. Unfortunately, the Lord called him home earlier than we expected and that cake and pizza would be shared later when we all meet in the Father’s House in heaven. Rest in peace, Father Emmanuel! Amen!

Martin Jumbam

Manrese Community, CLC Douala.

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