My journey to the Christian Life community (CLC) of Cameroon

The Christian Life Community (CLC) is a Catholic lay community that draws its inspiration from the teachings of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and receives spiritual guidance from the members of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).  I discovered the CLC in 2012 and, nine years later (January 17, 2021), I made my temporary engagement as one of its members in its regional branch in Douala, Cameroon.  Here is what I told my companions on that day.

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Dear friends in the Lord:

Before joining the CLC, I was already a member of the Catholic Men Association (CMA), a very active group of Catholic Christian men in Cameroon who dedicate their lives to working for the church and the family in the manner of Saint Joseph, Patron Saint of workers, and head of the Holy Family. Even though I enjoyed my presence in the CMA, I still felt that my soul, as Saint Augustine would say, was still in restless pursuit of the Lord, and would not rest until it rested in him.

In search of a community in prayer

In the spiritual context, I remember reading an interview by the founder of the Sant’Egidio movement, Italian Professor Andrea Riccardi, in which he defined Sant’Egidio as “a community in prayer”. Those few words, “a community in prayer,” touched me profoundly and, when I learnt that there was a Sant’Egidio group in Douala, I went out in search of it, and found it in the Ndogbong neighbourhood. I attended a few of their meetings, but somehow the Lord did not want me there. I still had an interior yearning for something else, which I could not clearly define.

I was then the General Manager of the Catholic Media House (MACACOS), and I desperately needed to talk with a priest about some confusing messages I thought I was receiving from the Lord, especially concerning certain decisions I was planning to make that could affect the lives of my employees. The Lord directed me to Father Pascal Djimoguinan, a Jesuit priest from Chad, who was based at the Jesuit Spiritual Center in the Bonamoussadi neighbourhood. He and I began meeting frequently and he eventually became my confessor.   I remember him telling me one day that I needed to be “spiritually accompanied.” I did not know what he meant at the time and I would have liked to know more but he was transferred out of Douala. It was with him that I began to live what I would later understand to be a key aspect of the Ignatian spirituality – spiritual accompaniment, or spiritual guidance.

Years later, when I was no longer at the head of MACACOS, I remember mentioning to our then parish priest, Father Ignatius Fominyen Musi, sj – may his soul rest in peace – my desire to know something about the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. He directed me to the Christian Life Community (CLC), a group I did not even know existed. I went in search of the CLC and found it.

Since then, my life of faith has been considerably strengthened through my daily practice of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, especially the tools of Christian meditation, contemplation and prayers. I have come to know what the term “discernment” means and how important it is for me to discern God’s will in the big as well as the small decisions of my life. Through my membership of the CLC, my prayer life has deepened in ways I never would have thought possible before becoming a member.

Another Ignatian prayer tool, the examination of conscience at the end of each day, is something I appreciate but which I find challenging, especially when I come back home tired after a long day’s work. After dinner with my family, it has not always been easy to overcome the power of sleep to revisit and meditate on my day. This is one area of my Christian life that I need to work on and to present to the Lord as a weak link in my prayer life.

I have also come to understand what spiritual accompaniment, or spiritual guidance, is all about. I meet with my spiritual guide, Professor Thomas Theophilus Nug, once or twice a month, to share my spiritual life and concerns with him. Just only the other day, for example, I talked with him about my illness and the accompanying pain I feel, and how I can offer it to the Lord.  We agreed that the Lord must have a message for me through my suffering and that I need to abandon myself to him and the message will become clear. I always emerge from such moments greatly consoled and comforted. In such exchanges, I strive to see God’s presence in everything around me so that I can follow Christ more dearly and more closely.

Benefits of a community and apostolic life

I have also understood the importance of belonging to a community and of regular meetings with members of Manrese, my community. During our meetings, we freely and openly share events that affect our lives as community members, sometimes at a very intimate level. I have found great moments of joy when companions listen to me and share my joys as well as my sorrows.  This became powerfully evident to me when a few years ago, my son fell very ill and my community rallied around me, offering masses and prayers for his quick recovery. They constantly keep in touch with me, and pray for me, when I travel outside the country – as I do so often — to be with him.   Manrese, thank you for your spirit of solidarity, especially in moments of trials and tribulations. Through my community, I have learnt how to listen to others and share in their moments of joy as well as in their moments of sorrow and have seen, and felt, how much such collective expressions of support have meant to me and to others as well.

To our CLC Douala Region, I say thank you for enabling me to meet companions, who have chosen the same path in our pilgrimage to the Father’s house in heaven. It is always a delight to run into one or two companions outside our Christian circles, sometimes in their professional environment, or in social life, and share greetings, deeply aware of our common desire to follow the Lord more closely and more dearly.

Through my presence in the CLC, I have come to know the value of yearly Christian retreats.  I prefer to join the retreats organised by the Ignatian group in Yaounde because I always want to be away from Douala for such moments. After an 8-day retreat, I come back home fully energised and more committed to my family and to my Christian life. I have also done shorter retreats (3 days) at the Jesuit Spiritual Center in Bonamoussadi with my community, Manrese.  I have also participated in recollections either with my community or with the entire CLC Region of Douala, and I find such recollections of immense help to me in my spiritual and social life. I always emerge from them a better Christian, a better father to my family, a better spouse to my wife, a better Catholic communicator, and a better member of the social groups I belong to.

My professional life

My membership of the CLC has also been a great boost to my professional life. Like many of us, I wear many professional hats. I am a Catholic journalist, a translator, a conference interpreter, and a writer.  Even though I was already exercising these various professions long before I joined the CLC, I now engage in them with my eyes more focused on the Lord than ever before.  It was at one of my retreats in Yaounde that the Lord led me to collect together for publication, in a book form, many of the articles I had written concerning the Church. One such article recounts my reconversion to the faith when I accompanied His Eminence Christian Cardinal Tumi in the first of what has become a yearly tradition in the Archdiocese of Douala, the “March for Peace” each first day of January, the Feast of Mary, Mother of God. Christian Cardinal Tumi began this tradition on January 1, 1993. That date marked my return to the Catholic faith after many years of wondering in the desert. The book is entitled My Conversion Journey with Christian Cardinal Tumi. I recently co-authored Cardinal Tumi’s latest book entitled My Night in Captivity, in which he recounts his one-night ordeal in the hands of rebellious forces in the restive North-West Region of our country. That book is now being published in the United States of America, for a worldwide readership.  

I hear the Lord constantly asking me “to put out into the deep” (duc in altum) so I can better enlighten others wherever I work. I have given many seminars to journalists of Radio Veritas, the radio of the Catholic Archdiocese of Douala, during which I emphasise the necessity of Catholic journalists to thoroughly understand the doctrine of the Church. I also regularly give seminars to journalists of the public media, particularly those of CAMASEJ (Cameroon Association of English-speaking Journalists).  With them too I stress the importance of infusing integrity in their profession, especially the need to avoid giving or receiving a bribe, a corruption practice that is so prevalent in our media today.

I have also led members of the CMA to meditate on the word of God based on the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. One of my regrets is that many Anglophone Christians of our Archdiocese have never even heard of the Christian Life Community (CLC). Father Emmanuel Nkeng, SJ, and I brought a group of Anglophone Christians of the Our Lady of Annunciation Parish together to introduce them to the Spiritual Exercises, but I guess it was not yet God’s time for such an initiative to bear fruit. I intend to pursue that initiative again a lot more aggressively in the near future.   I am also an active member of my Small Christian Community (SCC) of my neighbourhood, Santa Barbara, where we pray using the Lectio Divina, very much similar to one of the aspects of the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.

On many of my radio programmes on Radio Veritas, I have used the prayers of Saint Ignatius as well as some of the tools from the Ignatian spirituality to guide me.   I take much comfort in the Ignatian philosophy of doing more for Christ and for others (Magis), and I am definitely a better person now than I have ever been because I put Christ in the center of my work and everyday life. I am constantly interrogated by the Ignatian questions: “What have you done for Christ? What are you doing for Christ? What should you be doing for Christ?” They serve as a constant reminder to me to stay focused on the Lord each day.

Conclusion

In the course of my journey to the Christian Life Community (CLC), my wife, Hermine, has been a powerful force behind my prayer life and discernment. I thank her for her constant and solid presence in my life, especially in those moments of difficulties – and there have been many of them — which we have encountered through our thirty-nine years of marriage life.

I thank my spiritual guide, Professor Thomas Theophilus Nug, for his constant support in my spiritual and intellectual life, especially in those moments when the dark side of life seems to hide the Lord’s face from me.

I will let Saint Ignatius lead me to my conclusion: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me, to you, Lord, I return it. All is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace; that is enough for me.”  I make this prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

 

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