Interview with Fr. Leopold Mfouakouet, the former general councillor of the congregation, on his 25 years of priesthood and message to young Dehonians.
Reverend Father, you have just celebrated your silver Jubilee in the service of the Lord. Would you mind sharing your experience for these 25 years of priesthood?
In this Jubilee Year, I feel a sense of gratitude towards the One who calls, but also towards all those who have made me aware of this vocation (my parents, my family, Christians), those who have been my formators (in the novitiate, I have been able to learn from those who taught me how to insert myself in the parish pastoral activities, those who taught me how to insert all the preparations and studies I made in a precise framework of regional and then provincial projects, etc. I have also been able to learn how to integrate my work in the parish pastoral activities. A feeling of gratitude that I live at the same time as a debt to those to whom I am sent.
25 years, that’s a quarter of a century. Do you still have memories of your first years of priesthood?
Of course I do and the memories are still so fresh in my mind. I remember being appointed curate at Elig-Edzoa parish in Yaoundé, when Fr. Léon Kamgang (of blessed memory!) was the then parish priest. The parish had no presbytery at that time. We formed a community at the André Prévot Residence, with other confreres, such as Fr. Pierre Guéna, Fr. Sliva (both currently in France), and a few months later, Brother Antoine Touw . As part of the apostolate, I was the youth chaplain and I worked with the Pôle d’Etoudi (or Etoudi pastoral Zone). There I flourished! I still remember the eve of the new school year, where I had to go through all the secondary schools in the parish (both public and private) to obtain the school time Table and syllables from the censors, principals and head teachers, so that I can find free time to offer classes on religious knowledge. Moreover, I had to visit and accompany the different church groups in our parish, making sure they were living up to the goals of the pastoral plan handed to us by our den Bischop Jean Zoa of blessed memory.
What has marked your priesthood the most?
What has marked my priesthood the most is to have lived it, as a religious, and consequently in a community life with other confreres. This dimension seem to be the most extraordinary grace from my own perspective. Hence a very great call for attention towards other confreres, especially those who are religious like me except Priesthood. They remind me of the state of religious life in which to live one’s priesthood, and without which the latter cannot flourish.
You have been involved at many levels of the congregation’s mission, whether in formation, in the education of young people, in parish services or in administration. Is there a particular borrowing from our spirituality that has most characterized you in the exercise of these different functions?
The aspect of our spirituality that has always accompanied me in all the services I have rendered is what I call an informed availability. Availability is there to actualise the “ecce venio”, and the “ecce ancilla” …, which is well known to us. But what is important about an informed availability is that it is assumed first of all as a grace, then secondly with an awareness that there is a discrepancy between what one has been prepared for, and for which one has expended oneself, on the one hand, and the service which, is then requested on the other hand. What I have always experienced as a call to know how to re-enroll in the school of the One who is “gentle and humble hearted”.
25 years are certainly many years, but you must also recognize that you are still rather young and full of vitality. Do you have any projections for the future?
As a religious, I have no particular projections for the future, except: on the one hand, to hope to have the same graces of availability, but on the other hand, and above all, to pray those to whom it is up to judge, to never lose sight of this risk of discrepancy that I have just spoken about.
72% of the confreres in your province are less than 45 years of age. Do you have any advice to give to these many young Dehonians?
If I had any advice to give to those whom you call “young Dehonians”, it would be to never lose sight of the fact that they are precisely young and as such they have to work with young people. But it is important to know that if you can’t measure up to them, at least be in contact with them. This is an important aspect of our “dehonian” charism.