Religious Revival in the Roman Catholic Church and the Autochthony-Allochthony Conflict in Cameroon

By Konings, Piet | Africa, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Religious Revival in the Roman Catholic Church and the Autochthony-Allochthony Conflict in Cameroon


Konings, Piet, Africa


ABSTRACT

This article explores the reasons for, and the repercussions of, a virulent and protracted crisis in the South West Province of anglophone Cameroon during the 1990s caused by the emergence of a Pentecostalism-inspired revival movement within the Roman Catholic Church. The so-called Maranatha movement and main-line Catholicism were viewed by both parties as incompatible, almost leading to a schism within the Church. The originally internal Church dispute gradually became a particularly explosive issue in the region when the politics of belonging, fuelled by the government and the regional elite during political liberalisation, became pervasive.

RESUME

Cet article explore les raisons, ainsi que les repercussions, d'une crise virulente et prolongee dans la province camerounaise anglophone du Sud-Ouest dans les annees 1990, entrainee par l'emergenee d'un mouvement de renouveau de la foi d'inspiration pentecotiste au sein de l'Eglise catholique. Le mouvement ainsi appele Maranatha et le catholicisme traditionnel etaient juges incompatibles par les deux parties, manquant de peu d'entrainer un schisme au sein de l'Eglise. Ce qui fut au debut un conflit interne au sein de l'Eglise s'est progressivement transforme en question particulierement explosive dans la region, a un moment off la politique d'appartenance, alimentee par le gouvernement et l'elite regionale au cours de la liberalisation politique, devenait omnipresente.

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Religious revival movements of various sorts have had a profound impact on the public realm of many African countries in the last decennia (cf. Ellis and ter Haar, 1998: 193). Although there is a growing body of literature on the subject, revival movements within the main-line Churches, as Ranger (1986) has rightly remarked, have been understudied. In this study I focus on a recent revival movement within the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) in the South West Province of anglophone Cameroon that appears to have been inspired by the expansion of Pentecostalism in the area. This movement, popularly known as the Maranatha movement, emerged in Bonjongo, a remote village located between Buea and Limbe, but it rapidly attracted a large following from outside the village and eventually almost caused a schism within the south-western RCC. It became a particularly explosive issue when it was exploited for political ends, becoming part of the autochthony-allochthony conflict fuelled by the regional and national political elite during political liberalisation in the 1990s.

Given the dramatic rise and spread of the so-called 'Pentecostal', 'charismatic' or 'born-again' Churches among the Christian population in Africa in the last few decades, it is not surprising that they quickly became a source of inspiration for the introduction of certain innovations and the birth of revival movements within the main-line Churches. Several scholars have attempted to analyse Pentecostal ideology and practices and to explain the spectacular growth of the Pentecostal Churches in Africa and elsewhere (cf. Gifford, 1993, 1998; Haynes, 1996; Meyer, 1999; Van Dijk, 2000; Corten and Marshall-Fratani, 2001). Despite significant differences in their doctrine, liturgy, organisation and social base, they usually emphasise personal conversion as a distinct experience of faith ('being born again'), the centrality of the Holy Spirit, the spiritual gifts of glossolalia and faith healing, and the efficacy of miracles. Marshall (1995: 25) has highlighted the great appeal and evangelical zeal of the born-again movement: 'its idiom of rebirth is central not only to the individual's experience of his faith and the new opportunities it provides both spiritually and materially, but is a powerful metaphor for its mission within the Christian community and nation'. Pentecostalism has converted an increasing number of 'nominal' Christians, and all main-line Churches have come under pressure to adopt Pentecostal forms of religious expression in their liturgy. …

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