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Bishop Agapitus And The Challenge of Priesthood 

By Peterkins Manyong

"The Road Not Chosen". Not many people have read the poem with this title written by Robert Frost. But every rational adult must have at one time or another been in a dilemma on which path in life to take. Every rational choice must be preceded by a profound reflection on the consequences of that decision. One of the most difficult decisions to take in life is to become a priest. It is a far more daunting task than the choice between celibacy and marriage, because it is in fact a choice between chastity and its opposite.

Rev. Father Agapitus Nfon, who was recently appointed Auxiliary Bishop of the Bamenda Archdiocese, didn’t find it easier than others in the priesthood to decide that he would be an instrument in the hands of the Supreme Being. But having taken the decision he decided to abide by it .There are only two ways to avoid temptation; drive the temptress away the way Jesus did to the devil after forty days of fasting in the desert, or go away from her.

The task of a reverend father requires far more effort than that of Christ because he (the reverend) possesses less of divinity and the devil himself is formidable. The priest has the additional inconvenience of being bound to meet the Jezebels of the church in and out of church premises. Most of the females they encounter at every instance have two weapons as against the clergyman’s one.

They are not only heartbreakingly beautiful, they have audacity and wouldn’t take no for an answer, especially if the game in pursuit is an Adonis for a priest. The priest’s weapon is his strength of will. But this is a bastion which is bound to fall if the bombardment is as persistent as the French shelling of Laurent Gbagbo’s official residence in Ivory Coast, except the priest is a very prayerful and therefore a Holy Ghost guided prelate. 

The predicament of the reverend father in the den of Christian lionesses is illustrated by the story of a young, handsome priest in Ndop who had to cry out from the pulpit against the persistent sexual harassments he was suffering at the hands of women, many of them housewives. One of such women had visited him at midnight not only skimpily dressed, but with a dish of exceptionally spiced chicken.

The priest reminded the female part of the congregation that the parish had well trained cooks that prepared far better chicken. Even if there weren’t, midnight was the most inappropriate moment to bring him a meal. The real challenge priests have, newly appointed Bishop Agapitus told this analyst, is that they are very much in the eyes of the public. He attributed the sex scandals involving American priests, for instance, to the fact that much is expected of them in terms of morality.

The US being a very open society, the search light is nearly always on them and little acts of misconduct are picked up and magnified by the press. Priests constitute less than one percent of persons who commit acts of paedophilia, but the press reports about them as if they are the champions or even the only ones involved in it. The wrong people also get into the priesthood and these are those denigrating this pious profession. Cases like those of Father Etienne Nkumbah, the healing priest of Bojongo, are the exceptions to a rule which the church must learn to cope with.

One aspect in which the priest excels is discipline. Disciplinarians are born as well as made. The atmosphere in which priests are trained imposes on them that characteristic of sobriety which they would hardly acquire elsewhere. Those in search of excitement and boisterousness should look elsewhere. If routine could kill, most seminarians would be dead before the end of their course. 

Another aspect is learning. This helps build up enough confidence in priests so that nothing really embarrasses them. All those who have tried to trespass on the patience of seminarians or ex-seminarians have generally realised their errors after irreparable damage has been done.

If Fru Ndi and supporters knew or reflected on this characteristic of resilience in seminary trained leaders, they would have been less optimistic about Biya’s departure soon after the return of multiparty politics in 1990. Biya maintained his calm while all possible execrations were being heaped on his head. He was tried in absentia, condemned without room for an appeal and buried in effigy. He let go not so much because he believed in Sigmund Freud’s concept of the Talking Cure, but because he knew it couldn’t go on indefinitely.

The same action cannot make news everyday and every year, and the lifetime of the average scandal is one year. That of Biya lasted 20 years. He is still in power today because he mastered one of the greatest secrets of success employed in military campaigns, namely, that if you stand your grounds your opponent must make way. The seminary taught him patience.

To conclude, it is noteworthy that because appointments in the Catholic Church have as service to God as its objective, they are not celebrated with popping of champagne and general merry-making. There is good reason for family members, friends and relations to celebrate and even if jealousy is aroused in fellow clergymen by the appointment, it is not obvious to the naked eye.

Priests, whom The Post spoke with at the St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary after the appointment of the Auxiliary Bishop, said they didn’t envy him because they knew the burden of responsibility on his shoulders. There was no visible sign that they were saying anything apart from the reality.

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