I am Father Gervais Levis Kamwa Kouam, CM, a missionary priest from the Congregation of the Mission, commonly known as the Vincentian Priests and Brothers, recognized in the USA. I belong to the Vice-Province of Cameroon, which serves the Republic of Chad and Equatorial Guinea, where we also have missions.
Before I delve into my missionary experience, particularly highlighting the tangible impact of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith in our evangelization efforts among the impoverished in Cameroon and how the support from Catholics in the United States is aiding my Vice-Province in spreading the message of the Gospel, I would like to provide a brief overview of my home country and the presence of the Catholic Church in Cameroon.
Cameroon, located in Central Africa on the shores of the Gulf of Guinea, holds a profound place of importance within my heart. This diverse nation is home to 240 ethnic groups, categorized into three main groups: the Bantus, Semi-Bantus, and Sudanese. The population is divided in their language usage, with 70% speaking French and 30% speaking English. Additionally, Spanish and German are also spoken by many.
However, Cameroon currently faces numerous crises that threaten its social fabric. Food and military insecurity loom large, especially due to internal conflicts in the Southwest and Northwest regions, as well as the ongoing war against the Islamic group Boko Haram in the North. The Cameroonian constitution establishes the country as a secular state, with provisions prohibiting religious harassment and ensuring freedom of religion and worship.
Although Islam is practiced alongside Christianity, it is the latter that holds the dominant position, with 70% of the population identifying as Christian. Of this Christian population, 38.4% are Roman Catholic, while 26.3% belong to Protestant denominations. Consequently, the Catholic Church wields significant influence and maintains a strong presence throughout various communities in the country.
With five ecclesiastical provinces and twenty-one dioceses, the Catholic Church in Cameroon plays an active role in education and healthcare. It runs numerous schools, colleges, high schools, universities, hospitals, clinics, and health centers. These Catholic institutions spare no effort in contributing to the education and well-being of the population, leaving an indelible mark.
Many of Cameroon’s current decision-makers, including the head of state, have passed through minor seminaries run by diocesan priests or religious missionaries. Although these leaders may not always meet the expectations placed upon them, the Catholic Church has undeniably shaped the education and training of the country’s elite. Furthermore, the Church is extensively involved in social and charitable initiatives, actively participating in implementing community development projects.
Yet, the work of evangelization in Cameroon is not solely the result of the Catholic Church’s efforts but also a testament to the commitment and missionary presence of various religious congregations. Each congregation brings unique charisms and spiritualities that bear visible fruit in the growing work of evangelization and the flourishing of priestly and religious vocations.
In Cameroon, there are over a hundred religious congregations, with women’s congregations comprising 75% and men’s congregations making up the remaining 25%.
The Vincentian Fathers and Brothers is one such religious congregation that has been present in Cameroon since 1980. The story of my vocation within the Congregation of the Mission is a captivating combination of mystery and gift. Pinpointing the exact origin of my vocation remains a mystery to me, but I primarily perceive it as a divine gift.
Throughout my life and journey of faith, I have encountered numerous individuals at decisive moments, each contributing to the unfolding of my vocation. These encounters kindled within me a profound desire to become a priest, a passion that lay deep within my soul. I attribute a significant part of this calling to my service as an altar boy in the Church.
However, the specific call to become a missionary within the Congregation of the Mission, rather than a diocesan priest, emerged from my attraction to their unique way of life and work. These priests, with their distinctive style, impressed me greatly through their closeness to the afflicted and the poor. Witnessing these missionary priests’ tireless dedication in serving others, laboring with their own hands, and observing the positive impact they had on the lives of the faithful within my parish, left an indelible impression on me. Their spirituality resonated deeply with my own personality, which inherently despised injustice and suffering in my surroundings.
The impact of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith on the evangelization work of the Vincentian Fathers and Brothers in Cameroon is immeasurable and profound. The support provided by the Propaganda Fide (also known as the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples), made possible through the generosity of Catholics in the United States empowers the Vincentians in Cameroon to continue their tireless efforts in spreading the message of the Gospel among the impoverished. This support has tangible effects on the ground.
Thanks to the generosity of Catholics in the United States, the Vice-Province of Cameroon can offer full scholarships to children from the poorest families, ensuring that their education is not hindered by the lack of financial resources faced by their parents or grandparents. Additionally, this support enables us to conduct popular missions, which are impactful evangelization campaigns, reaching out to Christians in remote areas who may have limited access to spiritual guidance and resources.
Furthermore, the assistance from Christians in the United States through the Society of St. Peter the Apostle greatly aids in the training of seminarians in theology, as they prepare themselves for sacred orders. This training is vital for nurturing future priests who will carry the torch of faith and serve the Church and its people with devotion and compassion.
In essence, the Vice-Province of the Congregation of the Mission of Cameroon is profoundly grateful for the unwavering support received from Christians in the United States. Your selfless generosity enables us to continue our mission among the poor, following in the footsteps of our revered patron, St. Vincent de Paul. The impact of your contributions is felt deeply, as lives are transformed, hope is restored, and the light of the Gospel shines brightly in the darkest corners of Cameroon. Together, we are instruments of God’s love and mercy, bringing solace and salvation to those in need.
May God bless each and every one of you who, through your support and prayers, make it possible for us to carry out our mission. Your partnership strengthens our resolve, ignites our passion, and fuels our determination to bring the joy of the Gospel to those who need it the most. With heartfelt gratitude, we continue to serve, guided by the love of Christ and the unwavering support of our brothers and sisters in the United States.
By Father Gervais Levis Kamwa Kouam, CM