Schoenstatt in Cameroon
building a pilgrimage center from the soul of its people
Father Baumberger succeeds in combining Schoenstatt's spirituality with African culture
Alois Baumberger, Claudia Brehm
April 27th. 2021
Alois Baumberger, a member of Schoenstatt’s Priest’s Federation in Switzerland, lived and worked for more than 40 years in Chad, Africa and for 10 years in Cameroon. For him, pastoral work has been as it has always been in our country: slowly introduced with much complaining and criticism: large parishes, where mass is celebrated once a month and where the parish work is organized with committed volunteers. The parish priest travels a lot, trains volunteers, holds retreats for adult baptism candidates, men and women; prepares the various sacraments and goes where people need support. Spirituality and helping go hand in hand.
In recent years, Father Alois has been building the diocesan pilgrimage center in Marza, which means not only building a large pilgrimage church, creating sleeping quarters and conference facilities for pilgrims, but above all caring for the people in their many needs and being there for their questions and difficulties. In an extraordinary way, Father Baumberger succeeds in combining Schoenstatt’s spirituality with African culture and their way of thinking and living. With a sensitive eye, he recognizes those whom God (often surprisingly) places at his side for his pilgrimage center. He inspires them and helps them to enhance the abilities that God has given them. Experience for yourself a small part of Marza’s story as told by Father Baumberger.
Living with the Coronavirus and the Surprises It Holds for Us
How to face the coronavirus spiritually? We have crowned Mary in our pilgrimage parish as “Queen of Organic Thought and Action” for a new Pentecostal awakening in the post-corona era. Artistically inclined women made crowns for several images of our Blessed Mother. Children claimed that Mary smiled while we carried her image, along with her Son in the monstrance, over the mountain. The people here expect Mary to spread her veil over our parish, over the whole city and over the country to protect them against the coronavirus.
Garden of medicinal plants
Those who come to a place of pilgrimage usually find particular remedies for their physical and spiritual well-being: herbs, cheese, liqueurs, monastery beer. For us it is the miraculous plant Artemisia, which is believed to offer immunization against the corona virus. All of Cameroon came to us to acquire the life-saving elixir and to find out our secret, or to get some plants or seeds. The desire to grow medicinal herbs for the myriad ailments of modern life gave us the idea of establishing a plant-based health center. Brother Olivier has now started a biannual training twice a week on dosing, mixing and application of the medicinal herbs. The harvest is dried, dyed, mixed, and made into syrups. According to African tradition, diseases have spiritual and psychological causes.
A studio for making church windows
In February 2020, Fernand Kabongo, a native of Congo and a lecturer in Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, came to visit us “by chance”. He took a liking to the picturesque pilgrimage world of Marza and got involved developing a professional website for our shrine . He trained young people to manage this website and update it weekly with new information, and spiritual motivations. He then shared with us about his previous work in a stained-glass studio where he had been trained. We decided to open a studio in Marza to manufacture stained-glass windows for churches, a craft that is in danger of extinction. At the moment Fernand is working with his former boss as a draftsman to earn money so he can help to set up our new workshop.
Abbot Thérence, a Schoenstatt priest from Burundi, could not fly back to his homeland after completing his canon law studies in Yaoundé because of Covid-19, so he spent three months here in Ngaoundéré. His special way of serving in our pilgrimage parish, opened up to us a Marian spirituality infused with African culture.
We continue to build the shrine as well as the guest and pilgrim center. A mountain spring has been found and water is being pumped into a 5000-liter reservoir, which, among other things, is being used to water the medicinal plants. The old project to build a mill for cereals and for the pulverization of spices, medicinal plants and vegetables could be realized thanks to donations from Europe.
Africans do not abandon the church, but they do seek help from exorcists to cast out the demons they believe possess them. Today, the demand for inner healing is again increasing. With this in mind, we offer individual pilgrimage days with lectures, debate, adoration, confession or spiritual direction and Mass for inner healing. We want to use the current “Covid time” as a time to take a break and meditate before and with God, in order to get to know His ways and how the new form of Christianity for our time looks like.
We can see here that Covid also has its good side. Because of the restrictions, some things disappear, and we can work more stress-free. We have more peace and time to meditate and to reach the bottom of our soul so we can improve our physical and mental health. We learn to interpret again the “signs of the times”, to believe in Divine Providence and to take advantage of the energy coming from above, from God.
Father Alois Baumberger would appreciate your prayers for the people who come to our Shrine. If you would like to donate for the further development of the pilgrimage center, you may do so through the web page: htto://www.sanctuaire=ngaoundere.cm/
Or: Sparkasse Koblenz, Partnership Project Gunu-Gang, IBAN: DE 23570501200004012563, BIC: MALADE51KOB
Translation by Maribel Acarón