Many people know already early in life what they want to be. At the age of five, young Jean-Thierry Ebogo from Cameroon was already sure that he wanted to be a priest. For him, being a priest was nothing less than “being Jesus”. So when he joined the Carmelite Order in 2003 at the age of 21, it seemed as though his dreams were tangibly close to fulfilment. But Providence decided otherwise. After just a year, a malignant tumour was discovered on his right leg. Even amputation was not enough to check the spread of the disease. By the time he was brought to Italy for treatment in 2005, the cancer had already metastasised.
On 8 December 2005, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, he was granted special permission to take his permanent vows in his hospital room. His only worry was whether he would still have time to be ordained to the priesthood. He bore the severe pain with a smile, offering it up for priestly and religious vocations. “I only want to be healed in order to become a priest”, he said. But his life‘s dream was not to be fulfilled, for he died soon afterwards, aged just 23. Already by then his reputation for holiness had spread, however, and a vast throng of people came to his funeral. The beatification process for him was concluded at the diocesan level in 2014.
Before he died, however, young Jean Thierry Ebogo had promised to gift Africa with a veritable “rain” of priestly vocations. It seems that he has kept his word, for the Order of the Discalced Carmelites in Cameroon and above all in the neighbouring Central African Republic is today enjoying numerous priestly vocations.
(Young Carmelite friars in formation at the Monastery of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at Bangui, together with two of their teachers © Aid to the Church in Need)
In the Central African Republic, a desperately poor country which only makes the international headlines because of the repeated violence and unrest there, 27 young Carmelite novices are currently responding to the call of God and preparing for their permanent vows and for ordination to the priesthood. They want to give their lives so that peace can at last become a reality in their country. But true peace will only come about when God truly dwells in every human heart. In Cameroon too, where Jean-Thierry Ebogo was born, there are another 12 young men currently undergoing formation.
In the town of Bouar in the Central African Republic, Father Cyriaque Soumbou, a member of the formation team for these future priests and religious, comments: “It is a joy to see these young men who, in the midst of all the adversities in daily life and despite all the challenges, are endeavouring to give meaning and purpose to their own lives by allowing themselves to be led by the Holy Spirit in seeking to discern the will of God. These young seminarians are like precious pearls to me, they are a reason for thanksgiving, because they are the future of the Theresian Carmel.“ He himself had been drawn, even as a child, by the solitude and prayer of the Carmelites, but at the same time also by the joy of living together in community and devoting oneself to the service of others. All these were things he had seen in the Italian missionaries who had brought the Carmelite Order to his country and who are still working there to this day. “I am quite certain that this inner joy is not the fruit of human effort, but that it is Jesus who unites us“, he says. “How gentle is the hand of the Lord who wishes to accompany me. The teaching of Saint Teresa of Avila is always clear: what counts in the religious life is humility. We must never trust in our own strength but only in the grace of God.” That is how Father Cyriaque describes his own personal experience.
The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is providing $35,000 for this academic year, so that the 39 young Carmelite novices in Bangui, Bouar and Yaoundé can continue their formation.
The vital work of Catholic charities like Aid to the Church In Need provide a lifeline to the Church wherever she is poor, persecuted or threatened. Please help our work by donating online or send your donation to Aid to the Church in Need, PO Box 7246 Baulkham Hills NSW 2153. Ph: (02) 9679-1929