Recruits to a Franciscan community in Cameroon have increased so much that the country now boasts 80 percent of the order’s membership worldwide.
This increase has happened within little more than 10 years since the Franciscans of the Emmanuel first got started in the West African country.
Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Franciscan Brother Denis-Antoine explained that of the order’s 75 members, about 60 are now based in Cameroon.
Br. Denis-Antoine described how the order began in the African nation in 1999 after a diocesan priest from Nkongsamba city, west Cameroon, read about the Franciscans of the Emmanuel in a newspaper and requested that they help a group of parishioners wanting to live out the spirituality of St. Francis.
The brother, who explained that the order was set up in Montreal, Canada, in 1985, said, “At the request of the [diocesan] bishop, we came and started to form a fraternity of lay members. With time, the groups have expanded, established themselves and multiplied.”
Soon several of the young lay members asked to become friars.
He continued, “So in 2005, I came with a young lay brother from Canada to Cameroon to start the foundation of this first house of formation.”
During his interview, held at ACN’s international headquarters in Germany, he said, “With the help of benefactors, including ACN, the brothers built the friary with 18 bedrooms and the facilities for the community and its mission.”
Since then, the community has grown in Nkongsamba and there are now 17 friars in formation on their way to becoming consecrated members, and eight are already professed.
The young brothers are being trained to take up responsibilities in health care, catechesis, agriculture and farming.
At the request of the bishop, the Franciscans of the Emmanuel also set up a Spiritual Center which hosts retreats and formation sessions for groups from across Cameroon.
ACN provided support for both the Franciscans of the Emmanuel’s first friary in Cameroon and the Spiritual Center.
As well as being involved in parish work, especially youth and prison chaplaincy, the community ministers to the poorest members of society.
Br. Denis-Antoine described how the order’s work has expanded into the neighboring Dioceses of Bafoussam and Douala.
In Douala, the order recently started a local lay fraternity, mostly consisting of young adults, and there are plans to open a friary next year.
Explaining their mission in this area, Br. Denis-Antoine said, “They will help with our regular mission and they will also take charge of an existing orphanage of 30 children which needs managing and supervising.”
The Franciscans have also been working towards setting up a dispensary and maternity house in one of Douala’s poor neighborhoods.
Br. Denis-Antoine said, “The main message that we want to leave to you is that we are there, present with the people, hoping to give them this testimony of the life of the Gospel in the footsteps of our father, St. Francis.”
He also said, “Our fraternities of lay members are involved in solidarity with the poor and destitute in order to improve their situation.”
“This is why we believe that a spiritual commitment to the evangelical life has a deep social impact, especially in the life of the individuals who make this choice, but also in the life of the society.”
The brother went on to offer ‘heartfelt gratitude’ for ACN’s help. He said, “Being a Franciscan community, we are poor and in real need for financial support, like that provided by ACN, for the good accomplishment of our Franciscan mission in the Church.”
“Thanks to ACN and all the benefactors for the previous help received and for listening to this new call for support, giving us the opportunity to be your hands and heart to the people of Africa.”