“In Pope Benedict I felt the closeness of God in a way that I cannot fully communicate in words” Fr Agbaw-Ebai Maurice
Retired Pope Benedict XVI welcomed Revered Father Maurice Agbaw-Ebai in the Vatican on Thursday making him feel at home and showed great concern for the Catholic community in English speaking Cameroon that is facing difficulties.
Cameroon Concord News understands Fr Maurice Agbaw-Ebai was granted unprecedented access to Pope Benedict with no topic on theology off-limits. This remarkable meeting provided intimate insight into the Benedict XVI Institute for Africa.
Here is the most detailed conversation of Dr Maurice Agbaw-Ebai ever granted to a Cameroonian interviewer.
Cameroon Concord News: Fr Maurice, How did you react to the invitation to meet Pope Benedict XVI?
Fr Maurice Agbaw-Ebai: It was truly a deeply emotional moment for me. Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI has really been the inspiration that has shaped my priesthood. If there is one person that has influenced and shaped me more than any other human being, it has been Benedict XVI. I have prayed for over twenty-one years to have the opportunity to meet with him. I have written over 1 million words on the life and thought of Benedict XVI. To finally meet him in person and spend time with him at his residence at the Vatican is a joy beyond all telling. And I must thank the following persons for this opportunity: Archbishop Andrew F. Nkea, Metropolitan Archbishop of Bamenda, Cameroon, who wrote to Benedict XVI requesting that I be granted an audience. He also personally contacted Benedict’s secretary on my behalf. My friend, George Weigel, the biographer of St. John Paul II, who did the same. And Dr. Christian Schaller of the Papst Benedikt XVI Institute in Regensburg, who too contacted Benedict XVI requesting for an audience for me. I think lots of people who know me prayed for this day. In God’s time, He has made it happen that I meet Benedict in this life. You will see me, and your joy will be complete, says Jesus. I think there is nothing else I want again, besides continuing the task of making the life and theology of Benedict known. I will never forget what he said to me today. My vocation has been confirmed. Being in the presence of Benedict is an experience of Neoplatonic ineffability. You cannot adequately describe it. In Benedict, I felt the closeness of God in a way that I cannot fully communicate or express it in words (Fr Maurice develops wet eyes).
Cameroon Concord News: How was the audience in the Vatican?
Fr Maurice Agbaw-Ebai: Again, it was an experience akin to the Transfiguration. Before going to meet Benedict today, I spent time praying with John 13, for Lectio Divina. It is the encounter of the Lord’s washing Peter’s feet! I knew I was going to meet the Successor of St. Peter. I wanted to immense myself in prayer, so that the Holy Spirit will help me to encounter Peter in Benedict, and by so doing, encounter the Lord who as the Risen One, says to Peter and His Successors, feed my sheep, feed my lamb. The audience was well prepared for. There was a Swiss Guard waiting at the Ste. Anne Gate that drove me and Fr. Blaise Njikang, a priest of Mamfe and a seminarian that worked with me at the Bishop’s House in Mamfe, to the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, Benedict’s home at the Vatican. When we got there, the Holy Father was expecting us. Archbishop Georg Ganswein ushered us into the Holy Father’s Presence. It was truly moving to be in the presence of Peter’s Successor. You can imagine my thoughts. It was a truly deeply emotional moment for me. In Benedict XVI, I see the Face of Jesus Christ. He was truly happy to receive me. He was profoundly surprised at how much I had written about him. It was a time out of time.
Cameroon Concord News: Did you discuss the Joseph Ratzinger Institutive project for Africa with Benedict?
Fr Maurice Agbaw-Ebai: Yes, I did. And he was very happy with the initiative. In fact, he blessed a Memorial Plaque for the Benedict XVI Institute for Africa, which, following the decision of Archbishop Andrew Nkea of Bamenda, Chancellor of the Catholic University of Cameroon, Bamenda, and President of the Bishops Conference of Cameroon, will become, soon, a Constituent College of the Catholic University of Bamenda, Cameroon. He is very happy with the initiative and was deeply moved by this. He was also impressed by the quality of the Program. The Archbishop of Bamenda will have to do the formal declaration, but it is a great sign of hope for both Church and civil society that Africa now comes to Bamenda and Cameroon, for a theological institute regarding a theologian of a caliber of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. I told Benedict that the Church in Africa loves him very much, and that his writings continue to form a generation of very enthusiastic African priests. He was deeply moved to hear that.
The Lord has not forgotten his people in the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda, socio-political challenges notwithstanding. The Lord will never abandon his people. That is what history teaches us. God never abandons His people. And I did mention to the Holy Father the kidnapped priests of Mamfe Diocese, my home diocese. That too, deeply moved him, and he promised to pray for them. And I ask the readers of Cameroon Concord to pray for these priests, the nun, the laity and their families, to pray for their release.
Cameroon Concord News: Our readers would like to know if Pope Benedict invoked anything on your book- Light of Reason, Light of Faith Joseph Ratzinger and the German Enlightenment?
Fr Maurice Agbaw-Ebai: Yes, as you can see from the photos, he was very happy, because Light of Reason is a work dedicated to his inaugural lecture as a professor of theology. So, it made a deep impression to him that someone finally provided a theological engagement at a deeper level about a lecture he delivered in 1959. He was really happy about it.
Cameroon Concord News: Any Last word?
Fr Maurice Agbaw-Ebai: As a child born in Egbekaw New-layout and grew up in Small Mamfe in Mamfe Town, I can only thank God for God’s blessings. I come from a very humble background, growing up and schooling all along in Mamfe town. And when I look back, I feel so grateful to God for all what God has done in my life. And today’s audience with Benedict XVI is a milestone that captures everything about my life and God’s grace. Domine, Non Sum Dignus Est! (Lord, I am not worthy).
By Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai