Today 26th of August 2015 marks exactly 29years the cold hands of death snatched our mentor, author, orator,etc a man of the people Nsokika Bernard Fonlon who on a mission in Canada only returned as a corpse in 1986. A Great lost to Africa, Cameroon and Nso in particular. One who provided portable water to his people. Today 29years after the people of Nso are in conflict on the control and ownership of this precious gift of life from our father.
Today the 26th of August this afternoon, the people of God and Good Will shall assemble at the Kumbo Cathedral and later at the cemetery where his grave is found to honor him, remember him and most especially Thank Him and pray for his soul.
Permit me share a reflection from Rev Fr Gerald Jumbam on the painful celebration of the passing into eternity of this Great Man of the people.
Shey Tatah Sevidzem
BERNARD FONLON: APOSTLE OF THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL
Fr Gerry Jumbam
Celebrating The Painful Passing of an African Holy Man
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness. (2 Tim. 4:7-8)
A very wise man once said that ‘the more you recognize and express gratitude for the things you have, the more things you will have to express gratitude for’. These words certainly ring true for all Wirfon about the life of Dr. Bernard Fonlon, who has, since the 1960s, made all of us and our kingdom the center of attraction among communities. While grieving over his death which we commemorate today, we must come to the realization that there is so much for us to be thankful than to be thinking; that there is in Fonlon, so much joyful tears to pour than sorrowful ones to shed. The invitation today on this solemn day of his life, is that, we cross the boundaries of our own thoughts and feelings, and travel in pilgrimage with Fonlon, on this fateful day, in search of some spiritual pleasure, along with him, that brings us next door to God. By this, I challenge all and sundry to visit three of some Christian virtues he excelled in and of your choosing. Scan in your mind’s eye, through the last 18 installments I have delivered to you, and pick just three values you have understood in the life of this charismatic and saintly figure. Do this in a reflective and prayerful way, in the spirit of a pilgrim, not a tourist. And make some strong resoutions around them. The fruits, in later years, of such spiritual exercise, will surprise your hopes and you will be your own witness, of what such things work on human beings who look up to God.
As we visit these simple Fonlonian Christian virtues where the divine and the human meet, may we realize not only how close B. Fonlon is to us, but also how near God is – God, who is not watching us at a distance, but fairly deep within our own hearts. As you make this prayerful voyage therefore, travel from one Christian good quality of Fonlon to another, feeling therein, the awareness of the Holy Spirit that journeys with you.
And yet, what tribute, what homage can we really pay the man Fonlon?
Homage to an Exemplary Christian Life
Maybe the simplest tribute suits him best: he was a simple man. This, to me is the worthiest thing to say about Bernard Fonlon. What is meant of course is more than that Bernard Fonlon avoided advertising himself or hid his talent under the table, and thus passed his life in nothingness, unheard and unaccompanied. His was a nature that didn’t just pander into pretentious self-effacement or a myopic simplicity that was sister to mediocrity. His simplicity was that which enriched people’s lives – a dynamic modesty that was fearless, frank, forward-looking and that fought battles for the unfortunate. Even in politics, in simplicity and self-effacement, Fonlon was the arrowhead and master strategist of the pioneer government of reunited Cameroon who called the shots from the background. The world was lucky and held its breath by this simplicity for 62 years.
Being a statesman fitted him well enough but it was among his lesser distinctions. The heights achieved in his professional life – the deserved acclaim as an incomparable Cameroon politician and recognition as one of the greatest writers Africa has known – cannot fully explain the effect he had on people, whether they were close to him or only acquainted at a distance through his job. Why did so many feel pangs of personal loss when Dr. Fonlon died on the 26thof August 1986.
Sheer long life must figure in the answer – sheer long life in the spirit of the proverb, that “age is a matter of the mind and if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Bernard Fonlon’s 62 years were of more quality than some 100 years of little or no significance. He believed very well with the musician that “one day in this house is better than a thousand elsewhere”, and therefore his 62 years were diamonds spent on busy life-enhancing godly purposes. He had been part of the national fabric immediately he came back from Europe from studies, was one of the pioneers of the creation and enhancement of the budding schools of higher learning – the national university of Cameroon and the English speaking Major Seminary of Cameroon. But perhaps there was something additional in the country’s understanding of him. Even those whose experience of him was limited to his public career may have discerned that more than tremendous capability and influence were being conveyed by the magnificent actions of a man who was already a legend while still living. Here, his manners and his verbal felicity charmed his audiences and endeared him to all who met him, Bernard Fonlon. And we must not forget that his upbringing had been sufficiently privileged to make him what he was to be. A boy taught the extraordinary power of the written word before he was 9 by missionaries, and who would become a teacher at a very early age to one of the greatest minds in Nso, might have imagined all that lay ahead for him was just will-power, determination and heavenly grace to conquer whatever challenge came his way.
What a Role Model!
They say you should never meet your idol for fear of disappointment. Yet here am I with my idol, Fonlon, top floor, sitting opposite him for close to seven months in deep thought, study and writing, and I am neither disappointed nor tired. There is in all of us, the hunger for some symbol of a man or woman to light up our path, as role-model. There is in every community a thirst to pass on to other generations, the exploits of some unique individuals for communal continuum. Bernard Fonlon stands, unquestionably, as that one man for Nso, even for Cameroon and even beyond. The proof of this is that the extent of the present-day problems of Nso, of Cameroon and of Africa, can be measured by the distance we have travelled as Kingdom community or national community or continental community from the idealism of men like Bernard Fonlon. It is for this that we commemorate on this promising morning of Wednesday 26th August 2015, exactly 29 years the passing to eternity of an outstanding we commemorate. Idealism is no weak or ineffectual condtion lived by lazy unreal morons. In his idealism, Fonlon made himself one of the most charismatic and most pragmatic of men prepared to sacrifice his life for what he believed in but equipped also to work to bring his ideals to life by serious effort, competence, honesty and integrity – all the words that seem to have run out of fashion in our present washy-washy modern culture. It was this character of his that made him live many virtues worth thinking about.
Some Christian Virtues Worth Emulating
Dr. Fonlon’s primary passion was for the truth. He believed with his role-model Cardinal Henry Newman that “Error may flourish for a time, but Truth will prevail in the end.” Bernard Fonlon therefore believed that a community of people must be rooted in truth, and that God’s truth be defended against brute power and political expediency – even if it cost the defenders their liberty and their lives. In whatever he wrote he made sure his mind was keen and alert, probing every detail of what he considered was the truth, divest himself of preconceived ideas and avoided blatant falsehood, half truths and even the deliberate omission of relevant and essential facts. For in a country with members that perpetrate impunity, celebrate mediocrity, and cling to power at all cost, Bernard Fonlon stood for honesty, humility and candor. He would like to think he had helped us in the search for truth, and if, even at this late stage, we welcome him into hour hearts and actions, we are reminded that ‘Anyone who welcomes a prophet because he is a prophet will have a prophet’s reward; and anyone who welcomes an upright person because he is upright will have the reward of an upright person.’ (Matthew 10: 41.)
For two decades now, Fonlon used his home as a welcome shelter for a diverse population of strangers who were stranded in Yaoundé. To all traditions and cultures shaped by the Bible, offering hospitality is a moral imperative. Fonlon understood this so well and endeavored to welcome the needy and strangers and to treat them fairly. This expectation is not based on any special immunity to the dangers unknown people might present, but rather, it emerges from knowing the hospitality God has shown to us.
He was a man of prayer, and he prayed most beautifully for God’s light to shine in his heart and in the hearts of others so they be able to appreciate what it is to be a Christian. He was planning to take on another serious step in the story of his life and come back from Canada to us before his life was cut so tragically short in Ottawa. Fonlon was 62 years old, at the late afternoon of his natural span. For my generation, something of our own early days went with his passing. We missed in our early days the factual touching of the fringes of the cloak of a man whose writings and stories of his life meant so much to us.
The practice too of a “private retreat” at Mballa II. This retreating in Yaoundé enabled him to step aside from his ordinary routine for a time to reflect and to pray, to slow down, to be still, and to listen. Ideally, this practice of retreat motivated him to recognize the significance of prayer, quiet, and solitude in order to be in the presence of God.
The Task of Today
The old school motto of ‘diligence breeding prominence’ holds a special place in life’s triumphs. Diligence also, in many ways, is a useful tool in spiritual life. Yet, diligence is not enough. It must go with patience and long-suffering – an outstanding quality in any spiritual journey. It should never be forgotten that on this journey of the beatification, we are pilgrims not tourists. Tourists hurry to catch up; but pilgrims take it one step after another, prayerfully, penitently and courageously. Consequently it is required to be visionary, to capture the action plan for the process, keeping to the road-map we have begun, which will make us think clearly and which is implementable, taking it step by step until we get to the level.
In a world of instant enjoyment, in a world of momentary gratifications, the demand for urgent results – with no hard work – has trickled into every aspect of life. We are a generation of quick-fixers and our spiritual lives aren’t exempt. In the early days of the Fonlon beatification bit some couple of months ago, the best qualities needed to be involved were passion and enthusiasm – participants, spectators, propellers – it didn’t matter. Once you were passionate and enthusiastic, it was enough. But we are evolving and moving ahead, and enthusiasm and passion would be inadequate in sustaining this spiritual mission at this stage. All the seemingly boring stuff – garnering people together, sending messages, organizing prayer sessions and holy masses, stock taking, strategic plans and organizing plans, getting along with pastors of souls, contacting Hierarchy when in doubt, – they are what, at present, shall help to improve standards.
Human living is not a sprint game. Yet, we have to do our assignment. It is not now now or hit and run. It is the skill to assemble for prayer, to requesting in personal prayer and Holy Mass, the intercession of Fonlon on studies, on courage, on speaking and writing well, on employment for the youth, on the virtue of chastity, on dignity in the African soul, on battle against corruption, on merit in political and economic preferment, against overweening madness for power in state or church, on the celibate priesthood, on the religious life and on chastity in family life, – those are the things and people we should listen to, at this hour. And as Wirfon, the members of his local Church, the greatest good we would do to this process at present, is to resolve that through the ideas and example of our son and brother Fonlon, we are determined to raise a generation of Christians who in few decades time will make Nso land one of the foremost moral and spiritual Kingdoms on earth.
So the foundation is essential. You don’t rush. It is a marathon race. You don’t sprint when you begin a marathon race, you have to lay the foundation and let it be strong. It is a privilege to be beginners and the beginning is always rough ad full of uncertainties, and without a beginning there is no ending – so we are on the side of history.
But in some special way, at this hour, it has fallen on the laity of the Local Church to dare and do. You have been propelled by Hierarchy to move on. There should be no turning back again, and no fear of taking risks and making mistakes. Remember that the God who provides a young man with yam in the bush to feed his wife and child, will provide him with a hoe to dig it. Therefore, mobilize yourselves, set up a competent efficient and god-fearing leadership, and do what it takes to lay a foundation for future generations to get on board and take on the baton. That future generation watches you with keen eyes even when they still suckle at mothers’ breast or turn round mothers’ belly in the womb.
There is a good Irish proverb which Fonlon should have known, considering his closeness to Ireland: “Let your feet follow your heart until you find your place of resurrection.”We therefore pray to God that our feet may meet our heart as we invite Fonlon to pray and plead for us, the despairing people of a continent in throes:
Bernard Fonlon, you gave hope to the African people in times of despair, ignorance and despondency. You did this in your writings and in your life. You have inspired countless young people of this same continent to look up and hope for better days in toil and sweat. Inspire them now – as you are already ahead of us – to keep always with them the flag of human dignity and the pride of the black race flying high. You told us “I believe in the power of clean lives, in the strength of unity, and in the might of right”. Help us therefore to be instruments of uprightness, of unity and of truth. Teach us how to be docile sons and daughters of the Truth that is Christ especially in Holy Mass. May your chaste and celibate life inspire our generation once more to see the wonderful benefits of chastity and celibacy in a bewildered world. Amen.