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Opinions of Sunday, 1 February 2015

Journaliste: Tikum Azonga

How I disgraced myself at the Catholic seminary


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When I was a student at the Cameroon College of Arts, Science and Technology (CCAST) Bambili in Cameroon, Cardinal Christian Wiyghan Tumi (still a priest at the time) was rector of the St. Thomas Aquinas` Major Seminary (STAMS) in Bambui. One Sunday, Philip Kindong, a classmate of mine in CCAST and nephew to the rector invited me to accompany him for a visit to the seminary.

Unsuspecting guests of a future cardinal

Our host accorded us a warm reception in his office and chatted with us for about an hour. When it was over, he gave each of us and envelope with a bank note in it. I noted that his nephew and I got exactly the same amount, with there being no discrimination or nepotism. That to me proved that the man was fair and just. After that, the rector called two senior students, handed us to them and bid us goodbye.

A priest in his cassock

One of the two was Patrick Adeso whom I remembered very well because when we were in Form Five at Sacred Heart College, Mankon, our principal, the Rev. John Philips, invited him and another trainee priest to give us a talk about joining the priesthood. On the day they came for the talk and addressed us in the college auditorium, many of us wondered whether people who chose the priestly as opposed to a “normal” family with a wife and children running around, were really to say the truth, “normal”. Even so, a normal-looking Adeso assured us: “Life in the seminary is nothing. Everything is normal, just normal.” I remember that from that day on, the phrase, “everything is just normal” became a sing song on practically every lip at Sacred Heart College.

Nonetheless, at the back of my mind, I knew that the priest-to-be must know what he was talking about. After all, before proceeding to the seminary, he had scored a brilliant performance in his `A` Level examinations. In fact, his results were one of the best in that year.

Walk about and lunch

The two student priests showed us round the campus after which they took us to the refectory for the famous “Item Eleven”. We guests were asked to serve ourselves first. By some ill luck (or, perhaps luck), I was at the head of the queue and relished the fact that rice was the main dish. I have some kind of obsessive love for rice. I can eat it every day for seven days a week, a whole month and throughout the year without growing tired of the delicacy. So I literarily “swooped down” on what lay before me, like a sky hawk diving and whisking away a hapless chick before its mother could realize it.

Unknown to me, I exaggerated things and those behind me became impatient that not only was I wasting time, I was actually taking too much rice, considering the number of people that had to be served. When I lifted my head from the food table, I realized everybody was looking at me with total disgust. Then instinctively I looked down at my plate and understood that I had loaded so much rice in it that it looked like a little portable mountain.

I felt so ashamed of myself. I had moved away from the table to make room for those behind me and now did not have the courage to return to the tray and pour back some of the rice. Even if I could, how would others take it? Would I not look stupid and primitive in their eyes? Like a dog with its tail between its legs, I walked heavily to the nearest table and sat down. No sooner had I done so than someone came and asked me to get up and sit somewhere else because the table was reserved. Although he said it courteously, it did not make any difference to me because there I was, this time, being paraded, after making a total fool of myself.

The evil that men do

Philip and I ate in silence. I could not talk because no words came. He did not talk, perhaps because he was embarrassed by my action. Rice that always tasted agreeably in my mouth was for once, today, tasteless, insipid. It was as if I had been punished to eat food which I had never liked in my life. I sweated, although the food was not so hot. My only wish was that the meal should be over so that we quit the place.

Since that day, I have been haunted by the incident, especially when I am in Bambui or someone mentions Cardinal Tumi or the Bambui seminary. However, I do not know whether Philip still remembers what happened on that day. Unfortunately, he and I have not seen each other for a long time. But I have made up my mind that when next we meet up, I will raise the issue. Who knows? Perhaps we shall just laugh it away and push it to the back of our minds.

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