By Chris Mbunwe

Pioneer Archbishop of Bamenda Diocese, Rev. Paul Verdzekov, died at 79, Tuesday, January 26 at about 4:30 pm in his retirement home in Ntahsing quarters, Nkwen, Bamenda. Speaking to The Post on Wednesday, January 27, the Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Bamenda, Rev. Fr. Ignatius S. Waindim, who was also the Archbishop’s Secretary, confirmed that Verdzekov died while writing in his study. 

The Archbishop is said to have dispatched one of his aides to the Bishop’s House to obtain some references on an article he had set to write. Before the aide returned, Verdzekov had crashed on the floor. Doctors and nurses from the Catholic Hospital next door rushed to the prelate’s study to find him motionless.  The mortal remains were later that evening conveyed to the Shisong Hospital mortuary in Kumbo. "You know, this is a man who loves reading and writing and until he collapsed, we knew he was in good health. We mourn and pray for him," said Fr. Waindim.

On her part, the Coordinator of Justice and Peace in the Archdiocese of Bamenda, Laura Naddin Ngwa, said; "I did not believe my eyes until I arrived at Ntahsing touched and felt "Ta", cold as ice. If the Justice and Peace Commission are in Cameroon today, it is thanks to Bishop Verdzekov. He stood against child trafficking, torture and all human rights abuses."

From a recent 124-page book titled "Archbishop Paul Verdzekov, A Man of Faith and Integrity," written by Rev. Fr. Gregory Cheo Ngwa, Associate Secretary to Archbishop Cornelius Esua, successor of Verdzekov, the departed man of God is described as exemplary. His Eminence, Christian Wiyghan Cardinal Tumi, who prefaced father Ngwa’s book, says many scholars described the fallen man as a human encyclopaedia. 

"His weakness is that he remembers everything he has read and heard with such astonishing detail and exactitude. I asked him once to tell me how one can remember what one has read. He smiled and gave me no answer to the sincere question," Tumi wrote. Tumi says; "Verdzekov read almost any newspaper, any pamphlet, and any book, whatever the volume on which he could lay his hands, in the languages he knows best; Italian, French and English. He speaks smoothly and readily the three languages and writes very well.  He regrets his ignorance of German."

As a preacher, Tumi says Verdzekov made sure that what he had to say to any Assembly of God’s People was well prepared. "He abhors improvisation in preaching and does much research in the preparation of his homilies whatever the intellectual level of those whom he is preparing to speak. That is why listening to his homilies; one always has something new to learn."

Bio-data

Born in Shisong on Thursday, January 22, 1931, Verdzekov was the last and only surviving son of Paul Bara and Francisca Viyoy. He was baptized in Shisong on Sunday January 25, in the same year by Rev. Father John Scott. Verdzekov started his primary education in 1937 at Shisong Convent, Sacred Heart Boys School still in Shisong, then to Standard One from 1939-1944 to Standard Six.

From January 1945 to April 1947, Verdzekov served as a probationary pupil teacher at Saint Joseph’s Junior Primary School, Djottin, which was then part of Shisong Parish.  The then headmaster of the school was Michael Paul Wamey. In May 1947, he was transferred to Sacred Heard Boys School, Shisong, where he served till December 1947.  Verdzekov was admitted into the Teachers’ Elementary Training Centre, Njinikom, which was later moved to Bambui.

From 1952-1954, he attended the Holy Family Minor Seminary in Sasse, then to Bigard Memorial Seminary Enugu, Nigeria. Together with his classmate Bishop Pius Awa, Verdzekov was admitted into the Pontificio College Urbano "de Propaganda Fide’ to continue to undergo priesthood formation from 1958. He was ordained priest in 1961 with Pius Awa.  He later travelled to Rome to do a university course in Social Sciences.

In 1965, after gaining a Licentiate in Social Science from the Gregorian University in Rome, the Rt. Rev. Jules Peeters Bishop of Buea then, appointed him as Curate to Saint Joseph’s Parish, Tiko. He shuttled between Rome and Bamenda in quest of knowledge up to when the Diocese of Bamenda was created on August 13, 1970, with territory detached from the then Diocese of Buea and was appointed as Bishop Elect of the Diocese of Bamenda.  On November 8, 1970, Verdzekov received Episcopal Ordination. 

From 1971, he served as Bishop of Bamenda and in many capacities until December 14 2005, "when the then Apostolic Nuncio  to Cameroon, Antonio Ariotti, informed me by telephone that I am authorized to inform Christ’s faithful, officially, that I shall hand over to my legitimate successor in the course of a solemn concelebrated Eucharist in the Cathedral  at Bamenda on Monday, January 23, 2006". On this day, Bishop Cornelius Fontem Esua became the Archbishop of Bamenda and Metropolitan of the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province, while he became simply, Archbishop Emeritus.

The social life of Archbishop Paul Verdzekov is said to have been marked by a type of ordinariness that is difficult to define. Fr. Ngwa in his book, examines Verdzekov’s social life in the following aspects, his  humility, sense of humour, concern for justice and peace, his concern for youths, the family, his works of charity and care of the disadvantaged, his concern for prisoners, the force of law and order, the catechists and his concern for teachers.