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Mgr. Bushu: The Man, Priest & Bishop 

Interviewed By Walter Wilson Nana & Kevin Njomo

CameroonPostline.com — Mgr. Immanuel Banlanjo Bushu has clocked 40 years in the priesthood – 20 of those years as a Bishop and 5 at the helm of Buea Diocese. In this exclusive interview, we get into Mgr. Bushu’s world, his priestly sojourn so far and how he has been faring as a Bishop for two decades and more. Excerpts:

Forty years as a priest, 20 years as a Bishop and 5 years at the helm of Buea Diocese, how are you feeling?

I’m feeling good! When you’re working for God’s people, you’re working for the Catholic Church. Ours is an everyday life and the idea is to live like Christ. That is why we are called Christians. Nobody, who is Christian, should live other than Christ lived. That’s what I try to do as somebody looking after the circumscription of the church called the Diocese of Buea. That’s where I am and I make efforts to do that daily.

How has the journey been – 40 years in priesthood?

I take it as an everyday life.Sometimes it is wonderful; sometimes not. Sometimes it’s just ordinary. That’s the life that Christ lived. When we’re Christians, we live in a society and the things of society are also ours because we’re part of that society. But when you are guiding the life of a people as I am doing, then you live the life of the people daily. You share in the good things, the bad and even the most difficult situations as you move on.

What motivated you to get into the priesthood?

I come from Ngomrin in Bui Division, Northwest Region of Cameroon. I was born there, lived like any other boy and went to primary school. Church going every Sunday was part of us but, in Ngomrin, we went to prayer sessions – morning and evening. We learnt the doctrine of the faith and pupils had to come for catechism every morning and evening.

What caught my attention was the way the priests were celebrating the masses. It was good! The ceremony, the singing and the activities went on orderly. Progressively, I joined those who served at the mass, learning Latin and getting interested in all what happened. There were many other things that attracted my attention, but the priesthood attracted me most.

Eventually, time came for those who wanted to go to college, the priests came around and requested for those who wanted to go to Sasse College. However, I had applied to other colleges in Nigeria and around Bamenda. But I thought that it was good to come down to Sasse College and be part of the priesthood. Since then, I have found it very exciting serving the people of God in a special way.

What role did your parents play in motivating you to pursue your studies?

My parents were good Catholics though not educated. They were astute and devoted Catholics. We said prayers in the house every morning and evening. We learnt how to lead the prayers. Every child in the house had a day to lead. We went to mass every Sunday and our mother would trek about 7km to go for first mass. We (the children) accompanied our father for the second mass. In Church, some children had time to play but, from our home, it was serious business.

Where did the Reverend Fathers come from?

We saw Fr. Aloysius Wankuy, the first West Cameroonian to become a priest. All our priests were white missionaries from Europe. There were no Africans but these missionaries were closer to the people. They worked hard, staying faithful to the church’s teachings, offering the sacraments of the church and visiting homes. I saw them as carrying out selfless service to the people without a salary. They were happy without the salaries. They ran around and did many things and were involved physically.

The journey to Sasse College…?

After our 8 years in the primary school at the time (doing the standard six), I chose to go to Sasse College after other applications. I preferred Sasse because of the Minor Seminary that was there and I knew that when I came to school, I would stay there. In January 1961, I left the village and came toSasse, Buea for the day of re-opening. I was a reasonable boy. There were no second thoughts about going to Sasse and the seminary. I never felt home-sick. I rather felt the joy of going to school and studying. And happy to be in a college.

Going to Sasse College at the time meant that your parents had money…

My parents were ordinary villagers but hard working. We were many in the family and, at the time I was going to Sasse, my elder brother was already there. The eldest was in Ombe. The first in our family was supposed to go to a teacher training college but he started teaching in the village and stayed on with it. My younger brother went to St. Augustine College, Nso. All of us were on scholarships – from the government and from the council. The scholarships helped us a great deal; otherwise, it was difficult then. God blessed us.

Where are these family members of yours?

They are in many places: some have died, some are working and some have retired already. The first three before me are all retired people. The younger ones are working. Otherwise, we are old people!!

How was Immanuel Bushu selected to go to the Bigard Memorial Major Seminary in Enugu, Nigeria?

After I finished Form Five and without insistence on Form Six at the time, I went to the Major Seminary. Some of the other classmates had government jobs immediately we finished. While in Form Five, you applied if you wanted to go to the Major Seminary.The Rector then looked into your application and presented it to your Bishop.

The Bishop with his Council decided on what would happen. They would then write to the Major Seminary telling them about the number of candidates available as well as finding out if there would be a place for them. At that time, we were going to the Major Seminary in Enugu since we were under the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Onitsha, Nigeria. It was only after independence that the Holy See moved us from Onitsha to Yaoundé.

What pushed you to go to Enugu and not start your life as a government worker and make money?

I thought that serving people would make me happy. Serving people selflessly and not asking for anything. That, for me, was the greatest thing. The priests then had an organised life, houses built for them already and the zeal to work very hard was there and they did work extra hard, especially those I met. They impressed me.

How was life at the Major Seminary in Enugu?

Catholic Major Seminaries everywhere are the same. You are treated as a Major Seminarian no matter your nationality as a candidate for priestly formation. The regulations for formation are spelled out, the text books are available; the various exercises carried out are the same across the world.

We were welcomed as any other Seminarian, with some coming from Northern Nigeria and Liberia. We mingled together as candidates for the Catholic priesthood. It was a great place and we were taught the same, looking forward to the priesthood. There is no distinction at the formation; rich or poor background, we were all the same.

It was a very African setting the way things went. Nobody fails an examination. When you are you trained for anything, everybody succeeds. There is a minimum they are looking for. When you get there, they know when you begin practice, you will fine-tune yourself. The priesthood is like that when you go beyond a certain point all of you are given a pass. They are looking for the moral, spiritual, physical and intellectual growth of the candidate.

They call it the four pillars of formation. If the aforementioned are good, they call you for ordination, if not you are advised to withdraw and do some other thing in life. It was good in Enugu and the community was very welcoming. It was a big city at the time and, historically, Southern Cameroons was linked to Nigeria as a UN protectorate and the Diocese was administered from Enugu. Since the Buea Diocese was coordinated from Onitsha at the time, we did not feel any odds.

You were at the Major Seminary when the Civil War broke out in Nigeria, how did the Seminary authorities manage the situation?

It got very difficult when the war broke out. The people coming from the North were violent. The Rector took precautions and the Cameroon Consul invited us for some discussions, because the war was moving from the North of Nigeria via Nsukka. So, in order for it not to meet us in Enugu, we were advised to leave by June 1966 to come back home and see how things will go. Back in Cameroon, we took up other activities. Those who were already in Theology, which is a four year programme, were sent to Rome by Bishop Jules Peeters and those of us who were still doing Philosophy, were sent to Ibadan, Eastern Nigeria, which was free from the war. I finished my studies there.

And when the priestly ordination came, how did you feel?

I finished in Ibadan in December 1972. Then, we came to Lagos, flew to Douala and drove to Tiko. Before the road was done, we took Lagos, Douala and then the Tiko airport with a helicopter and drove up to Buea. Because it was Christmas time when I came back home, the Bishop advised that it would be good to wait until January 7, 1973 for ordination back in the parish church in St. Mary’s Parish in Nkar, Bui Division. It was a great day out there with January having a bright weather. People were happy.After that, I was sent to the Widikum Parish to start my work as a priest.

How did your parents receive you? They finally got what they wanted? Their child a priest?

Before my ordination, my father had died seven years before. My mother was there. The point of joy for my family was that they had a child who was a priest. They took it from the humble perspective and thanking God for having blessed one of their children to be a priest. However, along the line, my mother told me that, before my father died, they had been praying for me to get to where I wished to go. They had also prayed that, if it was the will of God, one of their children should get into the priesthood.

How did you receive the 1992 announcement from the Nuncio that you were appointed the Bishop of Yagoua?

It was not wonderful news for me as an individual. When the Nuncio broke the news to me on his sick bed then, because he was not feeling too well, he said: “Are you hearing me?” I replied, “Yes, I have heard you…” It was a big surprise for me. For some time, I did not say anything. Not knowing whether to rejoice or to cry. I felt like paralysed.

How did you operate in Yagoua, being a dominantly French speaking community?

Before I moved to Yagoua, I had done some French 28 years before – while in Secondary School. I learnt the basic grammar and vocabulary. I could read books and newspapers in French. I placed my stay on God’s graces, praying that I should catch up with my French language knowledge. While there, I listened keenly to the people.And I kept talking, whether I make mistakes or not. After three months there, I began doing a three-minute sermon in my chapel and from there I moved on and on.

When you are appointed a Bishop, is there anything that the Vaticanleaves at your discretion?

Once you accept your appointment, everything is at your discretion. It is rare to hear that one will turn down the request from the Holy See. A few will do so, however, for a particular reason. Choosing the insignia, the place of ordination and the person to ordain you are done by you.

After your Episcopal Ordination in Buea, you committed the Diocese to the Divine Mercy, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.Why?

We need patrons, those who will look after our community in a literary manner. I am putting the Diocese in the hands of Jesus, who is the Sacred Heart; Mary, who is the Immaculate Heart and the Heart of Jesus who is the Divine Mercy. These are the great aspects and manifestations of God’s presence in us, which will certainly help us if we are true to them.

Besides celebrating your 40 years in the priesthood, what are you telling your Christians?

The message of the church never changes. God has one word and He has given us that his word. We’re living the word of God that is Jesus Christ Himself. That’s what we need. God has made us all for Heaven.

Anybody conceived in this world is made for Heaven. God has given the means to everybody. No one is excluded. Let’s do the everyday things to glorify God – simplicity, honesty, hard work and ordinary things in an extra-ordinary manner. Let’s live the presence of Christ where ever we are and that will be good enough for us to enter Heaven.

First published in the Post print edition no 01429

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