The Saint Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary (STAMS), the major formation house of the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda in Cameroon, recently celebrated its 40th year of existence under the theme: “Called to be Saints and Scholars.” Forty years is indeed a lifetime worth celebrating. We give thanks to God for the existence of this formation house, a nursery for future priests, as one musically-gifted priest, Reverend Father Bonaventure Ndong, himself formed in that institution, once sang to honour one of its founding bishops, Archbishop Emeritus Paul Verdzekov, who is today admiring his good work from heaven.
As a lay faithful of Christ, who loves his Church and prays for the wellbeing of his priests, I will like to contribute to the thoughts sparked by the celebration of this momentous occasion in the life of our local Church. The last time I said something concerning our priests, and the need for them to take care of their health, it unfortunately caused quite a stir of indignation among clergy and laity alike, to the extent that I was banned from the Catholic publication that carried my views.
Today, far from wishing to stir another hornet’s nest of controversy, I just want to briefly comment on a recent interview the Rector of that major seminary, Reverend Father Ignatius Waindim, granted to journalist Paul Ngam of Radio Cameroon. I hope my views will be understood as just the concern of a simple lay faithful of Christ, who loves his Church, and only wishes to see her prosper more, all for the greater glory of God Almighty.
In answer to a question on the necessity to train his future priests to be good managers of the human and financial resources they will administer after ordination, the Rector seemed to downplay – and I hope I did not hear him well – the significance of such a programme, wondering if it would not add an unnecessary financial burden to the already overstretched shoe-string budget he is already managing. The conclusion seemingly being that after ordination priests would always acquire such human and financial management skills on the ground.
Such a view worries me. I strongly believe that human and financial resource management training should be fully integrated into the curriculum of any formation house worth the salt. Far from being a mere appendage that can be dispensed with at will, skills in managing human beings and finance resources should be fully embedded into the formation program alongside philosophy and theology.
When I look around me and see the increasing number of parishes in our country that are virtually run into the ground by priests, who are unable to manage the human and financial resources put at their disposal, I gasp in sorrow. Once these priests are raised to the level of bishops – and without a sound foundation in managing human beings and the financial resources of their dioceses – the result has been anything but flattering, to put it mildly. Need we mention names of archdioceses and dioceses that are facing acute financial and human management problems in our country today, all due to poor management by the local ordinary? They are there for all to see.
As someone who spent a good part of his professional life working in the human resource department of an international company, I can speak with first hand knowledge of the indispensable role training plays in the overall success of any institution – and the Church is no exception. Priests who receive little or no human and financial management training during their formation years tend to act as if they own the parish assigned to them. Some, and by no means all, consider any lay faithful, who dares to question some of their management decisions, a ‘traitor’ to the church and such a lay faithful often becomes the subject of sarcastic homilies from the pulpit. The worst sanctions fall on poor catechists or primary school teachers, who take the full brunt of the priest’s anger, when they dare question the priest’s management decisions? With this class of parish workers, it is either the priest’s way or the highway.
I believe that if during their formation years our priests receive intense training on how to lead teams, delegate authority (without losing it), manage their time well to avoid being stressed out (and taking their stress out on poor catechists, primary school teachers and parishioners), they would lead God’s flock entrusted to their care with joy. It is of vital importance, of course, for them to know that they are mere custodians, not the owners, of the parish funds put at their disposal. It is not uncommon to hear how many of them do mistake parish funds for their pocket allowances.
Once more, my views are merely those of a lay faithful of the Lord, who loves his Church and prays that God should send good (human and financial) managers to administer his vineyard. We, of course, pray that our priests not administer the human and financial resources of the Lord’s vineyard so well that they forget the Lord of the vineyard himself in the process. May they never fail to draw from the Tabernacle the divine inspiration that is so indispensable to managing the Lord’s vineyard. Ad majorem Dei gloriam! For your greater glory, O Lord. Amen.
Douala, January 19, 2014