The day I offered Holy Mass for a Muslim pilgrim

Each year, when the Muslim Feast of the Ram comes around, I always remember the day I offered Holy Mass for a Muslim pilgrim, praying to God to protect and bring him back home safely so he would sign my new passport. Here is the background to this story.

Not many years ago, obtaining a new passport in Cameroon was quite an uphill task. I remember the challenges I once faced while trying to obtain one. I was planning to travel abroad, and all my attention was focused on securing a spot online for a visa interview date. Finally, a spot opened up in four months, which was acceptable to me. It was only after booking the visa interview date that I realised, to my dismay, that my passport was expiring in less than six months. I was informed that a validity period of at least six months was required for the issuance of a visa to my destination. I had to get a new passport as quickly as possible.

I rushed to the Frontier Police in Bonanjo, Douala, only to be welcomed by the usual noisy crowds the place is noted for. There were those who, like me, were waiting to be fingerprinted and their pictures taken, while others were there to find out if their passports had arrived from Yaounde, and the lucky ones were collecting their new passports with smiles spanning their faces from ear to ear. After several hours of going back and forth, and enduring the suffocating Douala heat while standing, pushing, and shoving, I was finally fingerprinted and my picture taken. I paid the passport fee of fifty thousand (50,000) FCFA, and was asked to come back in 3 months.

Three months sounded fine to me because I would still have a month before my visa interview. I left feeling happy. Three months later, I returned to collect my passport, but there was no passport to collect. In fact, questions only led to rude responses that intensified my feelings of frustration and helplessness.

A friend advised me to go to Yaounde, pay for an expedited service, and I would receive a new passport within a week. He had used the same route, which he assured me was legitimate, to obtain his passport a few months earlier. The only catch was that the expedited service cost double the normal route I was on. On the spot, he called a police officer working in the passport section of the Frontier Police in Yaounde, who asked me to meet him in his office the following Tuesday. I did, and it went as smoothly as my friend had predicted. I returned to Douala happy that my passport would be in hand within a week.

However, four days later, the police officer, who had assisted me, called to say that his boss had just left for a pilgrimage to Mecca, and he was not sure when he would be coming back. “He didn’t have the time to sign the pile of passports I took to him, so we have no choice but to wait.” I was stunned. “What! If he’s not there, can someone else not sign the passports?”, I asked, frankly astonished.  “No, he’s the only one who signs them. He already has them in his office, and no one else has access to them anymore. We just have to wait.” He sounded quite apologetic.

I remember kicking, screaming, and cursing — all to no avail. Numerous worse-case scenarios rushed through my mind: What if he decided to “fall bush” and disappear into the “greener pastures” of the Arabian peninsula? What if, (God forbid!), he died out there? It might take months for someone to be appointed to replace him.  Knowing how things work in our country, such a replacement would likely take months to ever sign my passport.

The situation was scary and totally beyond my circle of influence, so I decided to go for what looked to me like a proactive solution possible: pray for the pilgrim’s safe return home. I thought that if I, a Catholic, combined my prayers with his Muslim prayers, the same monotheistic God he and I worship, albeit from different angles, would surely be moved to pour blessings on him and bring him back home safely. I went to my parish and offered Holy Mass with one special intention that was known only to me and God.

Lo and behold, a week later, my phone rang, and my police friend announced the good news: “I have your new passport. I will be in Douala tomorrow morning on my way to Buea. Let me know where we can meet.” I raised my arms into the air, threw my head back, peered into the sky, and thought I could discern God’s smiling face peering down at me. I screamed: “Alleluia! Alleluia! Thank you, Papa God-oooh. You’re too good-ooooh! Asalamalekum-ooh! Satan na lie-lie man-ooh!”

With my passport in hand, I went for the visa interview a few days later.  I was granted a visa and was able to travel safely.

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