Christian Wiyghan Cardinal Tumi
Archbishop Emeritus of Douala – Cameroon,
and Cardinal-Priest of Santi Martiri dell’Uganda a Poggio Ameno, Dies at 91
Compiled by Fr Dufe Joseph Ndzelen OFM Cap.
Loreto – Italy 03/04/2021
Christian Cardinal Wiyghan Tumi, Archbishop emeritus of Douala (Cameroon), was born on 15 October 1930 in Kikaikelaki, a small village in the Nso Clan, situated in the Northwest Region, of Cameroon. He did his secondary studies at diocesan seminaries in Cameroon and Nigeria (Ibadan, Bodija and Enugu). From 1969 to 1973 he obtained a Teachers’ Training Grade in Nigeria; a University General Certificate of Education at Ordinary Level in London; a licentiate in theology at the Catholic Faculty of Lyon; a doctorate in philosophy at the Catholic University of Fribourg, Switzerland. He was well versed in his native dialect, Lamnso, Pidgin and Hausa, Latin, English, and French. He also spoke some Italian.
He was ordained a priest on 17 April 1966 (at 35) in Soppo, diocese of Buea, by Bishop Julius Joseph Willem Peeters † M.H.M. From 1966 to 1967 he carried out his ministry as a parochial vicar at Fiango (Kumba). From 1967 to 1969 he taught at the Bishop Rogan College minor seminary. In 1973, after having studied abroad, he returned to his diocese and was named rector of the major regional seminary of Bambui, archdiocese of Bamenda. He was also chaplain to the Catholic Women Association, and was very involved in promoting the ecumenical movement, obtaining much esteem by Presbyterians and Baptists.
President of the presbyteral diocesan council, on 6 December 1979 he was elected the first bishop of the diocese of Yagoua (at 49), erected the same day. He received episcopal ordination on 6 January 1980 in St. Peter’s Basilica by Pope John Paul II as Principal Consecrator, with Archbishop Eduardo Martínez Somalo (Titular Archbishop of Thagora) and Bishop Ferdinando Maggioni (Titular Bishop of Subaugusta) as Principal Co-Consecrators.
During his pastoral care, the local church of Yagoua developed rapidly, enriched with institutions and centers of formation, nursery schools and dispensaries.
He was elected on 23 April 1982 vice-president of the National Episcopal Conference, and on 19 November 1982 he was promoted to Coadjutor Archbishop of Garoua. On 17 March 1984 he was made Archbishop.
In 1985 he was elected as president of the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon (until 1991). He also served as president of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM), 1990-1994.
He participated in the 6th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (1983) and in the extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops of 1985. He was created and proclaimed Cardinal by St. John Paul II in the Consistory of 28 June 1988 (at 57), of the Title of Ss. Martiri dell’Uganda a Poggio Ameno (Martyrs of Uganda at Poggio Ameno). He served as President delegate to the 8th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (1990); President delegate to the Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops (1994). He participated in the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops (October 2009).
It is worth noting that he participated in the conclave of April 2005, which elected Pope Benedict XVI. He served as the Archbishop of Douala, 31 August 1991-17 November 2009, when his resignation or retirement was granted by Pope Benedict XVI, at 79.
His Episcopal Lineage/Apostolic Succession runs down from Pope John Paul II † (1958) to Scipione Cardinal Rebiba †, Titular Patriarch of Constantinople. He has been the Principal Consecrator of Bishop Gabriel (Régis) Baley, O.F.M. Cap. † (1985), Bishop Jean-Bosco Ntep (1993), Bishop Jan Ozga (1997), Bishop Dieudonné Bogmis † (1999), Bishop Francis Teke Lysinge (1999), Archbishop Samuel Kleda, who succeeded him in Douala (2001), Bishop George Nkuo, bishop of his home-land diocese of Kumbo (2006), Archbishop Denis Komivi Amuzu-Dzakpah (2007); and Principal Co-Consecrator of Archbishop Antoine Ntalou (1983) and Bishop Agapitus Nfon (2016).
His mother, Mama Catherine Lahka, died at age 118, on June 8, 2015, at the St. Elizabeth Catholic Hospital Shisong in Bui Division, Northwest Region of Cameroon. In 2009, when she celebrated her 107 years on earth, Cameroon Panorama’s Emmanuel Wirndzerem Verdzeka, caught up with her and she spoke about her marriage life, her children, especially her beloved son Tumi: “I am called Catherine Lahka. My husband, Thomas Tumi, is of late. Our marriage was blessed with seven children; four of whom are of late. Christian Cardinal Tumi is one of those still alive. He was actually born here in Kikaikelaki. When his late father left for Jos in Nigeria, he instructed me to hand him and the other boy to a friend, Pa John Mengla and his wife, Casilia Nsam. At that time we trekked to Nigeria and, I must tell you, Jos was still a remote area. My husband got a job there and was paid five shillings per month….”.
Cardinal Tumi died at the early hours of Holy Saturday 3 April 2021 (01:24 a.m.), at his retirement residence, in the Archbishop’s House of Douala. On this day when the Universal Church contemplates Jesus nailed to the cross, one could not but wished to have died the lucky death of Christian Cardinal Tumi – a man recently honoured by his tribes people of Nso, in a ceremony erroneously viewed by strangers to the Nso culture as controversial, with the title in honour of his dedication to the cross as Shufai wo Kintam. Pope John Paul II in whose papacy he functioned died on April 2, 2005, exactly 16 years before the demise of Christian Cardinal Tumi – what a coincidence!
The fallen Prince of the Catholic Church has been a man of integrity and faith. He lived a pious life and fought for the downtrodden. He would be remembered as a fearless soldier who spoke without hiding his faith convictions, especially while facing the corrupted political regime. In his recent outing to his village Nso, on Thursday November 5, 2020, at 7:00 p.m. he was intercepted and abducted by the liberation fighters in Ndop; he was detained in their camp overnight for questioning (and released the following day), together with the Paramount Fon of Nso, His Majesty Fon Sehm Mbinglo (whose release took place later on Tuesday 10). They were on their way to broker peace deals in the village of Nso which has been hard-hit by the current socio-political crisis rocking the country, but unfortunately their mission was never fulfilled. In his last book titled: My Night in Captivity, he narrates his ordeal in the camp of his abductors. In an interview with ACI Africa Tuesday, January 12, the co-author of Cardinal Tumi’s memoir, Martin Jumbam said that it was important for the Cardinal to narrate his experience with the kidnappers because “the government has always suspected him of supporting opposition forces in Cameroon… In the book, the Cardinal makes his position very clear that he does not support these guys in the bush although the government suspected him of being one of the supporters because he tells the separatists, very clearly, that he does not support what they are doing,” Jumbam said.
Christian Wiyghan Cardinal Tumi dies leaving a great deal of his unrealized dreams, and at a time when the Covid-19 Pandemic is ravaging the world.