If you find yourself walking the halls of Sitzmann this semester, please introduce yourself to our visitors from Cameroon. Father Peter Elvis Moleke Akanang and Father Pascal W. Siben, priests and professors who serve at the Catholic University Institute of Buea (CUIB), have brought their joy and enthusiasm to St. Thomas and will complete the C.S.M.A. over the next year.
During their time at St. Thomas, Akanang and Siben hope to answer some fundamental questions about a Catholic education, such as “How can we maintain a Catholic identity at the university? How can we form both saints and scholars? How can we form the head and heart at the same time?” They intend to integrate the answers into the curriculum at their school and make it their own.
Q. What do you love about your country?
Akanang: The spirit of communal life. We are so bonded. … It is our sense of identity, community.
Siben: The faith. The way we cele- brate. … If you happen to attend an African Mass you will love it. I like to take [any person from the West] to church and let them experience how we celebrate. The joy, that makes an impression on them.
Q. How was it decided that the two of you would come to study with us?
Akanang: All students at CUIB take Catholic studies, so we want to boost that department and give them something that will be timeless. The only way we can do this is to come over here and get it from the source itself, get it from those who founded this program. To ask: What is your intention? What is your whole philosophy of Catholic studies? And how should it be taught? This is very important.
Siben: When I first got to CUIB, I had heard about philosophy and theology, but [I found myself asking] what is Catholic studies? So actually coming to the United States, my first question is “Why teach Catholic studies in a uni- versity?” And students when they come in for their first year at university, they have the same question. … I’ve discovered the reason behind Catholic studies within a Catholic university is to give a kind of a unity of knowledge. It is not about Catholicizing people, converting them to Catholicism,but trying to tell them that knowl- edge is a whole. … We come to ask how do we teach this unity of knowledge and derive our own approach in the African context?
Akanang: I can tell you that from the seminar that we had and the classes that we have taken already, and those we are taking now, I am being so enriched. … My whole approach to Catholic studies back in CUIB is completely different.
Akanang: First and foremost, the content. The material itself. Secondly, is the background, the very inspiration behind founding Catholic studies, that integration of knowledge. So, whether the student is in engineering or in business or technology, we can blend that with the fact that we are all seeking truth and fulfillment in life.
Q. Cameroon has its share of economic, security and humanitarian challenges. How do you see your approach to Catholic studies, or CUIB in general, creating a more integral human ecology in Cameroon? How is CUIB addressing that big question of human development?
Akanang: Every Cameroonian grows up thinking that the way to get things done, you have to bribe someone. Corruption is very bad.
This is where we think we can form a new breed of Cameroonians who are prepared to sacrifice themselves, put in their best. If they acquire skills so well in school … they will serve the community – if we create a sense of the common good.
We have to work to change this mentality [of materialism and secularism] in students because they can be the ones to stop this corruption. They can be the voice in society. The message of genuineness, the message of integrity, they need that message. That springs from every Catholic studies class.
Siben: I think CUIB is doing a marvelous job when it comes to human development. That is part of the mission of the university. Cameroon has one of the highest rates of unemployment. … So, one of the goals of the university is to raise the consciousness of the students that they do not want to rely on the government at all, that they can create something for themselves. We stand on the slogan that we are job-creators and not job-seekers. We are an entrepreneuring university, meaning that we try to encourage our students to create. To help students to know that destiny lies within them. “I can do something on my own.” That is the spirit of an entrepreneur.
The mission of the university is to train professional servant leaders who will contribute to the sustainable development of their community. Our eyes are more on the community – humanity. That is why within the university we have required volunteerism. Each student has to complete 100 hours of volunteerism before graduation. … The point of this is not to impose on students, but to teach them that you have to give back to the community.