Foyer de la Charité, an oasis of silence in Bonjongo, Buea.


On one of the hills protruding like a finger from the side of the majestic Mount Fako snugly sits the first ever Catholic Church west of the Mungo, the historic German-built Bonjongo Queen of the Angels Church.  It is surrounded by a breath-taking scenery, an amazing panoramic view that stretches all the way to Malabo in Equatorial Guinea across the bay from Victoria.

Nestling at the foot of this hill, and well within its shadow, sits a rectangular structure that looks more like a convent than the retreat house that it really is.  Previously built as a formation house for the Brothers of Saint Martin de Porres, this structure has since the year 2000 been serving as a diocesan retreat house under the French name: “Foyer de la Charité”.

Father Jude Thaddeus Mbi, who now chaperons this small community, chuckles gleefully as he reads the address on an envelope before him. “Anglophones find it difficult to write this name: ‘Foyer’. One sees all kinds of spellings; see this one,” he says, brandishing the address on an envelope that would make even the most liberal member of the French Academy, that watchdog of the purity of the French language, collapse in fright.

Bed-ridden founder

But why would anyone blame Anglophones for butchering this French name, given that a French structure of this nature seems a little out of place in the Diocese of Buea? Father Jude says this community is the brainchild of the late bishop of Buea, Pius Suh Awa, who brought the concept from one of his visits to France. The community itself was founded by a French visionary, mystic and stigmatist, Marthe Robin. Born in 1902, she was a sickly child who became bed-ridden at the age of 18 with paralysis on both legs. Ten years later, at the age of 28, she suffered total paralysis and was confined to bed for over fifty years, during which time she lost her ability to drink, eat or even sleep. What was so miraculous about her, Father Jude continues, was the fact that she only ate the Blessed Sacrament once a week, for the rest of her earthly life.

At another stage in her life, she received stigmata, the five wounds of our Blessed Lord and each Thursday she would suffer the Passion of Christ up till the following Sunday, and sometimes even beyond Sunday. For over fifty years, she suffered the loss of blood from her wounds. It was a miracle that she could lose so much blood in her already emaciated condition and still survive. As word of her condition spread, people began to flock to her home at Châteauneuf-le-Galaure in the French region of La Drôme, seeking her prayers and even advice on their own lives. Shaking his head in disbelief, Father Jude says that it is strange to see a bedridden woman being sought after by able-bodied men and women for advice on how to live their lives!

A priest, a must

Father Jude tells her story with passion. He says that our Lady appeared to her on several occasions, and so did our Blessed Lord, who asked her to do something very new in the world. When she asked what it was, He told her she would found a “Foyer” of light, charity and love where our Blessed Lord’s heart would dwell to welcome and assuage all souls seeking peace. She then wondered how that could be done, given that she was bedridden. It was then our Lord told her he was going to send her a priest, whose main apostolate would be to organize retreats.

On February 10, 1936, a certain Father Georges Finet came to her, like everyone else, either for advice or out of sheer curiosity, and was then told that it was him the Lord had chosen to serve the new community as its pioneer priest. He would be giving five full-day retreats that became known as “Fundamental Retreats”, covering the whole of Catholic teachings to enable participants to discover what Catholic faith is all about. That is why the community cannot function without a full-time priest entirely dedicated to retreats.

Asked if such retreats are limited only to Catholics, Father Jude gives a categorical No! “People of other faith, especially Presbyterians, come here too. In fact, the other day one of them surprised me with a call, telling me she had thoroughly enjoyed the retreat and that she was planning to come back one day, God willing. She did not become a Catholic, which is not our aim, but her faith simply intensified after her stay with us. And that is really our mission, that is, deepen people’s faith through evangelisation. Faith can never be exhausted. For those who come to us without faith, he says, we pray that they may leave us with it; for those with faith, we pray that it may be reinforced. We’re always learning something new about our faith. That’s our mission: preach the faith, in season and out of season.”

Father Richard Chin, pioneer priest

Further asked if he (Father Jude) is the pioneer priest of the “Foyer”, he says, “Oh no, you must have heard of Father Richard Chin. He was the pioneer priest; the bishop sent him for training at our Mother House in France and he retuned to start this house here. Unfortunately, the Lord called him home too soon and quite unexpectedly. Thereafter, this place remained without a priest for about two years after his death and it was in 2003 that the bishop asked the Vicar General to propose another priest to take over from Father Richard. Richard and I were classmates and good friends at the Seminary. So when the Vicar General asked if I wanted to take over, I said his wish was an order to me. I was then sent for training at our Mother House in France, and when I returned home, I took my final commitment as the priest of the Foyer.”

What is this final commitment all about? “It means that I can no longer be transferred from the “Foyer”. I am now a full-fledged member of this community and can only work here. My duty in the Diocese is giving retreats and ensuring the wellbeing of this small community. We pray to our Lady of the Foyer for more vocations for our community.”

A cry for more vocations

The cry for an increase in vocations rises from the depths of the prayers and songs that echo several times a day from this community. The cry is so ardent that one immediately thinks of Saint Monica’s plea to the saintly Bishop of Milan, Saint Ambrose, to intercede for the conversion of her then wayward son, Augustine. Saint Ambrose’s response that a child of so many tears could not possibly be lost seems an appropriate feeling one has when one listens to the prayers of this community. It would be surprising that our Blessed Lord, always so prompt to listen to the cry of his children, would remain deaf to the ardent plea for more vocations from this tiny community, which the occupants proudly present as “an oasis of silence” in silent Bonjongo.

Their day begins at 6 o’clock with Lauds, followed thirty minutes later by Holy Mass. Rosary comes up at mid-day; the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy at 3 p.m; the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at 6 p.m.; Vespers at 7 p.m. and Compline at 9.15 p.m. Whoever comes there just to rest is advised to join the community in their prayer sessions, quite a rewarding experience. Retreat-participants have a special programme to follow.

The “Foyer de Charité” can be reached at +237-67760-52-06; +237-67771-89-48; e-mail contact:

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