Attacks against the Catholic Church that is in Cameroon from other Christian denominations in this country, especially those of the Pentecostal persuasion, are nothing new. New, however, is the increasing tendency certain Catholic circles now have to take the battle of abuses and threats to the doorsteps of their attackers. But is that the right thing to do? The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI says No! Defend your faith, he tells us, but don’t attack others!
The Pope recently dedicated one of his weekly audiences to Saint Peter Canisius, a Dutch Jesuit priest of the 16th century, and a great defender of the Church in his native Germany during the Reformation. The Holy Father, praised this great saint, who is also a Doctor of the Church, for, among other things, defending the Church without attacking others.
Saint Peter Canisius, the Pope said, knew how to “harmoniously combine fidelity to dogmatic principles with the respect due to each person. He insisted that there was a difference between willfully turning away from the faith and the loss of faith that was not a person’s fault under the circumstances, and he declared to Rome that the majority of Germans, who passed to Protestantism, were without fault.”
“In a historical period marked by strong confessional tensions,” the Holy Father continued, Saint Peter Canisius “avoided – and this is something extraordinary – giving into disrespect and angry rhetoric. This was rare at that time of disputes between Christians.”
I was reading the Holy Father’s message at a time a very noisy “evangelization caravan” was going through the parishes of the city of Douala, led by a French priest, Father Hervé Marie, of the Congregation of Saint John. A loud and fast-speaker, Father Hervé Marie can talk for hours on end.
Wherever he goes, he pulls an unbelievably large crowd that hangs on every word that drops from his lips. There is a strong play in his message on the people’s fears of the unknown. One is strongly reminded of scenes from charismatic and Pentecostal performances of the likes of the self-styled “prophet” Joshua in next door Nigeria.
Father Hervé Marie visited my parish, the Our Lady of Annunciation Parish in Bonamoussadi, where we witnessed the same scenes of sheer hysteria that accompany him wherever he goes. Crowds screamed and swooned from side to side, cheering as the pastor hammered away against unseen demonic forces that were apparently hindering the progress of evangelization in the city of Douala.
The loud speakers in the Church blared out his message and carried the man’s loud and powerful voice to the four corners of the neighbourhood. Bayam-sellams in the neighbouring market also seemed captivated and totally enticed by Father Hervé’s unrelenting verbal bombardment. The “Hallelujahs” and “Amens”, rising from the excited congregation, were loudly re-echoed in the market and, I guess, in the neighbouring houses as well.
I found two things particularly disturbing in Father Hervé’s preaching: his views on Catholic prayers, particularly the Rosary, and what appears like unacceptable attacks on other Christian denominations.
Views on the Rosary
Since his passage through our parish a few weeks ago, parishioners have been divided over what exactly his views are on the Rosary and on Catholic prayers, as a whole. While some strongly endorse Father Hervé’s call on Catholics to refrain from limiting their prayers only to a series of “Hail Marys”, “Our Fathers” and the doxology, “Glory be to the Father”; others are appalled by his views, which seem to minimize the significance of these age-tested prayers that have been hallowed by use and recited by Catholic Christians from the dawn of Christianity. These are prayers of such importance to Catholic doctrine that it baffles one that a Catholic priest would seem to minimize their significance to Catholic Christians. Whatever side one is on, it’s clear that there’s much more division among our parishioners now on the Rosary and on daily Catholic prayers than before Father Hervé came knocking.
Attacks on other Christian denominations
Concerning other Christian denominations, Father Hervé did not seem to hide his disdain of separated churches, expressing open doubt that anything good can ever come out of such churches. I know that the Catholic Church comes under constant attacks from the other churches, but must we, too, engage in similar verbal assaults on others?
From what the Holy Father says about Saint Peter Canisius, the answer is an outright and loud “No!” There are people we all know, who are members of other churches simply because they were born into those churches, just as some of us were born and bred in the Roman Catholic Church. It’s no merit on our part to have been born Catholic, nor is it any fault of theirs that they were born into those churches.
Those Catholics, who, as Saint Peter Canisius says, willfully abandon their Catholic faith and embrace the faith of others, could come in for some concern; but then, must it be in such violent terms? Are we not likely, in the words of Prophet Jeremiah, to mislead and scatter God’s flock, instead of gathering them and bringing them back to fresh pasture? “Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter my flock, warns the Lord” (Jer 23:1-4).
Let’s defend our Catholic faith; yes, but not by denigrating the faith of others. These are not my words. I am merely summarizing those of the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church, the Servant of the Servants of God, the Successor of Saint Peter, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. Let us pray that God should continue to endow him with wisdom so that, in the words of the prophet Jeremiah (23:5), he should reign and govern wisely and do what is just in the land. Amen.