By Nchumbonga George Lekelefac,
On Saturday, April 15, 2023, Father Cyprian Tatah Ferdzefer, Fidei Donum from Kumbo Diocese and pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church, Frederiksted, St. Croix, Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands celebrated 30 years of Priesthood at St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, USA. The mass was solemnly celebrated by the 6th bishop of St. Thomas Diocese, in the person of Bishop Jerome Feudjio, first native African Bishop in the USA from Cameroon. Cameroonian-born Bishop Feudjio succeeded Bishop Herbert A. Bevard of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, whose resignation was accepted by Pope Francis Sept. 18, 2020. St. Thomas Diocese is a Suffragan See of the Archdiocese of Washington. (Cf. Can. 436 §1).
The occasion was colored with traditional dances, Cameroon traditional regalia, and African dishes which identified, demonstrated and promoted the Cameroon – African culture.
I had the grace to interview Fr. Cyprian in my last visit to St. Thomas Diocese on November 17, 2021, (Cf. Interview with Fr Cyprian Tatah, Rector of St Peter & Paul Cathedral, St. Thomas, US, 17.11.21, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8zc246F7KY;https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjK7rrKaFLU). During the interview, I discovered that Fr. Cyprian is a very happy priest, contented with what he has, and a very studious and intelligent priest, who has a passionate pastoral zeal, a man of the people, with a very simple and humble personality despite his remarkable intellectual and pastoral achievements.
Biography, Work, Qualifications and Interests of Fr. Cyprian Tatah Ferdzefer
Rev. Fr. Cyprian Tatah Ferdzefer is a Diocesan Priest of the Diocese of Kumbo. He was born on the January 19th 1967 in Roberta-Kikaikom. He was born into the Family of Papa Chin Francis Tata (ordinarily called Baa Kakir) of Blessed memory and Mama Crescentia Yegwa. There were eight siblings, five brothers and three sisters. Two of the brothers have already been called into eternity. Thus, out of a family of ten, three have been called into eternity. Rev. Fr. Cyprian Tatah Ferdzefer attended St. Paul’s Catholic Primary School Kikaikom from 1972-1979. In September 1979, he gained admission into the Minor Seminary – Bishop Rogan College, Soppo, Buea where he obtained the GCE “O” and “A” Level Certificates respectively. In September 1987 he was admitted into St. Thomas Aquinas’ Major Seminary Bambui. He was ordained Deacon in October 1992 by Fr. Paul Verdzekov of Blessed Memory and Priest on April 16th 1993 in Kumbo Cathedral Mission Station by Mgr. Cornelius Fontem Esau, the Archbishop Emeritus of Bamenda Archdiocese in Cameroon. Since then he has served in the following appointments: 1st July 1993- 1st July 1995 –Curate in Tabenken Parish in the Diocese of Kumbo. 1st July 1995 to 16th August 2000 – Bishop’s Secretary. 16th August 2000 to June 30th 2003 – Parish Priest of St. Mathias Mulumba’s Parish Ako. 1st July 2003 to 16th November 2006, further Studies at the Pontifical Urban University of Rome. November 2006 to July 2009 – Coordinator of the Diocesan Pastoral Formation Team, director of St. Jerome’s Biblical and Pastoral Centre Kumbo, Link person to the Lamnso Bible Translation. From September 2008 – June 2009 he was part time Scripture Professor at St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary, Bambui, while still holding the above previous functions. Still holding the aforementioned functions, he was appointed Canon of the Cathedral from January 2009 to June 2009. After this, still holding the functions mentioned from 2006, he became Parish Priest of Meluf from June 2009 until July 2012.
In July 2012, he became the Catholic Education Secretary for the Diocese of Kumbo, a position he held only for two years, less than the official Mandate. From July 1st 2014 he became Parish Priest of St. Joseph the Worker Parish Djottin. Then he was appointed the representative of the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province in the Bible Society of Cameroon and at the Commission for the Biblical Pastoral Ministry of the National Episcopal Conference and finally co-opted member to the Provincial Commission for Catechetics and Pastoral Affairs of the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda from July 2014 until June 2021 when he was asked to go as Fidei Donum (gift of faith) to the Diocese of St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands. In the Diocese of St. Thomas, he served for eight months as Rector of Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Thomas. From June 15th 2022 he was appointed Pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church, where he is presently serving and celebrating his 30th Anniversary of priestly ordination.
He has the following Academic qualifications: a degree in Philosophy and a degree in Theology, both from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Major Seminary Bambui. He has a Licentiate in Biblical Theology from the Pontifical Urban University Rome. He has organized two successful Diocesan Synods (the 2nd (1999) and the 3rd (2012) Diocesan Synods of the Diocese of Kumbo). He was present as a seminarian in 1st Year philosophy during the 1st Diocesan Synod in 1988. He was the chairperson of the Steering Committee of the Celebration of the Centenary of the Arrival of the Catholic Faith in the territory which today is the Diocese of Kumbo. The implementation of the Provincial Pastoral Plan – the new way of being Church is his passion. He has written books and pamphlets on the various aspects of this implementation of the Provincial Pastoral Plan. He believes that we can be financially self-reliant if we target and preach the Gospel Message in the Small Christian Communities. He also believes that we all have gifts which we can use for the building up of the community and the Church and encourages each and every one to use his /her gifts by learning how to take risks. Thus, he is not frightened by People’s gifts but encourages them to use their, gifts well. He also enjoys putting up of structures for worship of God and for teaching individuals to utilize their God given talents fully for the Glorification of God and the integral development of man and the society. His hobby is chatting, reading, brainstorming and writing. He believes that man can make his heaven where ever he or she finds himself and that the fullness of life Christ brought (John 10:10) begins here on earth.
A Word of Gratitude
In a Word of gratitude on the occasion of the thanksgiving Holy Mass for the 30th Anniversary of his Ordination to the Priesthood at Saint Patrick Catholic Church, Frederiksted, St. Croix, Diocese of St. Thomas in USVI addressed to His Excellency, Rt. Reverend Bishop Jerome Feudjio, Bishop of the Diocese of St. Thomas in the USVI, Reverend Fathers, Reverend Sisters, Distinguished Invitees, the Anniversary planning committee under the Chairmanship of Fr. Touchard Goula Tignoua and brothers and Sisters in Christ, Fr. Cyprian Tatah Ferdzefer (30th anniversary priest), pastor, St. Patrick Catholic Church, Frederiksted, St. Croix, Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands articulated profoundly in the following words:
“‘This day was made by the Lord, we rejoice and are glad.’ Psalm 118:24. It is with immense joy and gratitude to God that we are all gathered here to celebrate the marvels the Lord has done to his Church for the last 30 years by calling me to be his priest. The other day, one priest told me let us get it right. Do you say you are ten years or fifteen years a priest or 30 years? I did not give him any answer. I simply told him to guess what he thinks by looking at me. Then he said, ‘well I think you are fifteen years in the priesthood.’ My appearance looks like someone who is fifteen years old in the priesthood but today I wish to declare that tomorrow April 16th 2023 makes me 30 years a priest. For God to have allowed me to work in his vineyard for this period is something to thank him for. This is why I began by saying ‘this day was made by the Lord, we rejoice and are glad (psalm 118:24).’ On my ordination day, I was asked to thank the people on behalf of the two of us who were ordained on that day and I made a mistake in my speech in which I was instantly corrected by the Bishop who ordained me. I told the people that their presence for our ordination gives us a lot of joy because I didn’t know we were that important for them to come out in their numbers, leaving all their businesses because of the two of us. When the Bishop who ordained us gave his concluding remarks he said he wanted to make a correction in my speech and he said, the people who were present for our ordination were not there because of us, they were there because of what God had done to them through us, namely giving them some other workers in his vineyard. The people came not because of us, but to praise God for the gift of two new priests to his Church. Conscious of this first mistake, 30 years ago, I would not want to make another mistake again. Therefore, I greet everyone present here for coming to thank God for what he has done to his Church for the past 30 years by calling me and supporting me to work for his Church for these number of years.
Of course, I did my part to struggle to answer God’s call and as years go by, the struggle does not become lighter, but God took the initiative to call me because of his people not because of myself. My joy is that I have been able to respond to him and at least to remain ‘physically faithful’ to him all these years despite my many shortcomings. Jeremiah says in Chapter 20:7-11ab; “You seduced me, Lord, and I let myself be seduced; you were too strong for me and you prevailed. All day long I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I must cry out, violence and outrage I proclaim; the word of the Lord has brought me reproach and derision all day long. I say I will not mention him; I will no longer speak in his name. But that it is as if fire is burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones; I grow weary holding back, I cannot! Yes, I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him! All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. Perhaps he can be tricked; then we will prevail, and take our revenge on him,” But the Lord is with me, like a mighty champion: my persecutors will stumble, they will not prevail.” Sometimes I share with my friends that like Jeremiah above, the Lord seduced me when I was still very young and many a time the above experience of Jeremiah is also mine for accepting this mysterious call from God in which you are ‘never your own’. Nonetheless like every call or vocation there are moments of Joy and moments of sorrows which one must accept and live with. Our master Jesus Christ went through all of these and who am I? The earthenware Jar on which this treasure of God has been entrusted for the good of his people (2nd Corinthians 4:7). Why should I then complain when the surpassing power is from God and not from me?
It all started when I was eleven and half years old that I passed the interview to go to the Minor Seminary called Bishop Rogan college Soppo, Buea in my country. In September 1979, I started the minor seminary studies. I did not go to the minor seminary to become a priest. I went because I was told it was a good school where during breakfast bread and butter are eaten and which was my favourite. On the interview day I was instructed by my elder brother Njodzela Francis Tatah of blessed memory, to say that I wanted to be a priest, otherwise I will not be taken into this good school I wanted to go into and that is what I repeated to the Rector Fr. Fontegh Anthony of Blessed memory who interviewed me. He tried to catch me in my answer whether I will not like to be a pilot or and an engineer but I was faithful to repeat the answer my senior brother gave me; ‘I want to be a priest,’ though in reality this was not really my intention. From September 1979 until 1985, it dawned on me that this was my call and n 1987 when I left high school in the very minor seminary my intentions were already purified, I was not there only for bread and butter, God had called me to continue to pursue major seminary studies and I was admitted in 1987 into St. Thomas Aquinas Major Seminary Bambui, Bamenda, where I pursued my philosophical and theological studies. I ploughed through philosophy and theology for seven years and nothing could stop me from becoming the priest because that was all I longed for from the moment I entered the seminary. On April 16th 1993, I was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Kumbo Cameroon by the grace of God.
I have been a priest living and working in that diocese, until I came here as Fidei Donum (gift of faith) to the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. I also left my Diocese only when I went to Rome in the Pontifical Urban University to Study Biblical Theology, a subject I cherish very much, where I graduated with a Licentiate in Biblical Theology. I am celebrating this 30th anniversary here in the Diocese of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Many persons wanted me to come back home to celebrate this thanksgiving Holy mass but I refused and told them I was now a missionary and where my 30th anniversary has met me I will celebrate it there. This is why I thank you for coming for us to jointly thank God for his marvels to his church and in my life since he called me to be his priest. You are all representing those whom I have come in contact with in my ministry all these 30 years. The Biography in the booklet prepared for this occasion gives you the details about my life and work for the last 30 years.
I thank in a most special way His Excellency Most Reverend Bishop Jerome Feudjio for accepting me to come into his Diocese to have this missionary experience and then to also celebrate this anniversary. Thank you, Your Excellency. I wish also to thank you for the letter of congratulations which you sent to me of April 3, 2023 which I have read several times over. In it you tell me again what the priesthood is all about and you encouraged me to forge ahead, praying that the Lord gives me many more years in this ministry to continue to shepherd the people of God, with your prayers and the prayers of all the faithful of the Diocese of St. Thomas for me. Thank you, Your Excellency, I will remain ever grateful to you for allowing me to have this experience in your Diocese and for your words of encouragement.
I thank all the priests of this Diocese here present and those who could not make it for this celebration for welcoming me and encouraging me to work with them in the Diocese of St. Thomas. It is another new and exciting experience with many challenges. I thank the Christians of St. Peter and Paul Cathedral, Holy Family, St. Anne, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in St. John and Our Lady of perpetual Help Parishes where I was for eight months. I thank you for coming here to join me in this celebration. You are welcomed to St. Croix and in particular to Frederiksted town and you have to know that ‘the west is the best’. You welcomed me into the Virgin Islands and made me pay the new man tax, before I came over to St. Croix. Thank you for initiating me into the Diocese of St. Thomas.
I thank all the Christians in St. Croix. Before I came here permanently I had come to sensitize on the Synod on Synodality, so I know practically every Parish now in St. Croix. I have also been given the opportunity to coordinate the Year of the Eucharist and so practically I have gone to all the Parishes in St. Croix. I thank you for your presence and for allowing me to have the experience of your Parishes. This is not by chance. It is God’s will. Thank you for your presence at this thanksgiving Holy mass to mark 30 years of the grace of the priesthood bestowed upon me by the almighty God.
I thank the Reverend Sisters here present from St. Thomas, Holy Cross and St. Patrick Catholic Church. I am sure some persons are seeing some Reverend Sisters here for the first time. I thank the sisters for making us breathe some Cameroonian air by processing with the Gospel in the Cameroonian style with the young people of St. Patrick Church with their motto ‘Faith, hope and love’. I thank the superior of the sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth of Dschang in Cameroon who is visiting her sisters and has taken her time to be one of the representatives of the Cameroonian delegation in this august celebration. In my culture it is said that if you are going somewhere and someone’s house is on fire you have to stop your journey and quench the fire before continuing. I wish to thank you sister superior, for coming ‘to quench the fire of this celebration’, before returning home. It will not be a bad idea if another community of the Holy Family sisters of Dschang is opened at St. Croix. I sound now like a politician, but a politician for God. Once more Reverend Sisters, your presence here is very much highly appreciated. I thank the Franciscan Sisters of the Pure Heart of Mary for their relentless work to make this occasion a success. The Cameroonian food you will have in the Hall is their handiwork. Try to taste a bit of it.
Last but not the least, I thank the members of St. Patrick Catholic Church (the west is the best) who have taken it upon themselves to prepare through financial, material and spiritual contributions towards this celebration. With the busy time of Easter, I know all you have gone through to have this celebration today. God has already blessed your endeavours. I thank in a special way St. Patrick Choir for taking all the pains to prepare and to be here to sing on this day that the Lord has made for us. I thank all the young people (our Church of today and tomorrow) for their involvement in the preparation of this celebration Finally, I thank the anniversary planning committee under the headman ship of Fr. Touchard Goula Tignoua (the parochial vicar of St. Patrick Catholic Church) for the wonderful planning and preparations that has recorded such a great success. It is my hope that as the Lord keeps us together; we shall continue to answer his call to move towards him in faith every day of our lives. In fact, if the people of St. Thomas are not careful we may cease the Bishop from them and build his residence in St. Croix. This celebration was just a warning sign.
I wish everyone a safe journey back to their various destinations. I pray that God’s abundant blessings come upon you all for honouring our invitation to be present here. We can only say with the psalmist after 30 years – ‘what marvels the Lord has done for us, indeed we are glad’ (Psalm 125). May this celebration inspire many young people with the support of their parents to answer God’s call in our midst to serve his people in his Church! Thank you for your kind attention.”
Nchumbonga George Lekelefac, Doctorandus, University of Münster, Germany; Europe/ USA Chief Correspondent of the SUN Newspaper; Founder/ CEO of Nchumbonga Lekelefac Institute of Research, Documentation, Language and Culture, USA.