Posted on December 12, 2019 By Fada Herbert in Funeral Reports
It's 22 November 2019, memorial of St Cécilia, Virgin and Martyr, and patron of singers. The mortal remains of Fr. Celestine Diang have just spent their first night in the Sacred Heart Cathedral cemetery, Fiango Kumba. He lies next to Fr Polycarp Fonjock and Fr Elias Elad who preceded him. The scenery that emerges from the beautiful tombs and green grass show forth the hope that the dead lie in the grave in joyful hope of the final resurrection. 59years after taking his first breath on 29 January 1960 at Njinikom, Fr Celestine now breathes in a new life, where he has joined his late parents Bobe Anthony Diang and Nawain Josephine Winkii, as well as his immediate follower, Sr Marie Therese Diang, TSSF who died on 18 July 2019.
An intertwined destiny
This November 2019, the entire Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda has somehow been involved in one act of continous pilgrimage. This long chain had its first station at Shisong, Kumbo, where the Tertiary sister of St Francis, Sr Anastasia Vershiyiy was laid to rest on Thursday, 7th November. The 2nd station was at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Big Mankon the following Thursday, 14 November, where pilgrims bid farewell to Fr Cosmas Ndang, Priest of the Archdiocese of Bamenda. 21st November was the 3rd station in this pilgrimage, at Kumba, where Fr. Celestine Diang was buried.
Who can understand the ways of God? Fr Cosmas had visited and prayed for Fr Celestine in hospital some days before he himself passed on. Sr Anastasia prayed over and accompanied the remains of Fr Celestine on the day he died, b4 collapsing and dying herself the same night. These holy three, united in practicing and benefiting from the corporal works of mercy now walk in the presence of God in the land of the living, as the Psalmist says. Have the angels of God finished, distributing the invitation cards for God's banquet? Time will tell. Never before in this Province has November been truly, a month of prayer for the dead. Perhaps, in this moment, the words of Scripture take a deep meaning: "Happy is that servant whom the Master finds ready, when he comes knocking".
A last concelebration
Flanking Bishop Agapitus Nfon yesterday at the funeral Mass that started at 9.05am were Mgr Immanuel Bushu, and Mgr Andrew Nkea of Mamfe. Assisting them were some 190 priests, 10deacons and a myriad of male and female religious. Prayer and action groups, Choirs from Buea, Mutengene and Kumba, alumni of JOPASIT Molyko and Christians from all walks of life gathered to offer the greatest prayer of the Church - the sacrifice of the Holy Mass. Hymns of hope mingled with the incense and filled the air, as a sweet offering and prayer of thanksgiving to God for the priestly ministry of Fr Celestine Diang, whom 28yrs after his priestly ordination on 7 April 1991, was "concelebrating" his last Mass! Concelebrate? Yes...
According to an ancient Catholic custom (1st recorded in the Diary of Johann Burdiard, who was Master of Ceremonies to Pope Innocent VIII & Pope Alexander VI) priests are buried with their heads towards the altar and feet towards the pews, so that they occupy the same position in the Church, as they did during their life: facing the people whom they taught and blessed in the name of Christ ( Cf.Thurston, H. "Christian Burial" Catholic Encyclopedia, NY online edition, www.newadvent.org/cathen/03071a.htm)
Words of exhortation
In the Mass of Fr's last "concelebration", Mgr Agapitus called on all to thank God for the unique life of Fr Celestine Diang, and commend him to God's mercy. The opening words of his 29mins homily were especially touching: God had called the beautiful soul of Fr Celestine to himself on the eve of 31st October, the day we conclude October devotion to Mary, health of the sick, and Gate of Heaven, such that Fr Celestine would "open his eyes" in the afterlife on the eve of the solemnity of all Saints. Recounting his telephone conversations with Fr Celestine for the 5months during which he followed up specialised treatment in India, the bishop testified that Fr had hoped in Christ for recovery so as to return to serve his local Church. Evidently, God planned otherwise, but having died in Christ, it was the Bishop's hope in the words of the Second reading, that Fr Celestine will reign with him. (2Tim2:8-13).
The bishop extended thanks to the doctors in India, St Mary Soledad Hospital and all those who prayed for and/or visited Fr Celestine, and also invoked the blessings of Heaven upon Fr Richard Njoh, who had extended physical, moral and sacramental care to the 3rd departed priest of Kumba, in succession. To conclude, Mgr Agapitus, re-echoed the homily of the vigil where Fr Lawrence Ofon had said Fr Celestine's long suffering was God's means to purify him. Suffering truly shows God's love, and is a pledge of future glory. Quoting Cameroon Hymnal 91vs 4, Fr Ofon had put the words of St. Alphonsus Liguori on Fr Celestine's lips :"for how can he deny me Heaven, who here on earth, himself hath given?"
Commendation and burial
Holy Mass proceeded as usual, culminating with a prayer for priests, final commendation and the Litany of praises to Jesus Christ, priest and victim. The procession headed to the East wing of the Cathedral where Fr Celestine was interred. The intensity of the tears revealed the truth behind the words from the homily of Fr Joseph Awoh at the vigil Mass for the ADP Priests, that: "Every priest must be a father to the people he serves." Old and young persons alike showed they really considered themselves "orphaned" by the death of the "Father" who had encouraged them to marry in Church, helped them discern God's call, or fostered their appreciation of the laity in the Church, or the dignity of true liturgical music.
Yet all was not pain, for amidst these sighs and groans was a sign of great relevance - the white garments of the immediate family seemed to communicate the faith that, although they had lost a sister and brother in succession, they had gained 2 intercessors, and gained anew in a special way, a bigger spiritual support in the family of God that was present to mourn with them. As the grave contractors cemented the grave, a symphony of choral singing, and traditional dances ensued. The tears soon gave way to hope, when the bouquets were laid on the tomb, after the completion of the first cementing. Some watched in silence, others offered vocal prayers. One could literally feel the faithful connecting with a certain spiritual presence, despite the physical absence. But as the groups left after their prayers and photographs, each individual took in the painful truth, and the consoling message of the Gospel - they will see Fr Celestine when the just will rise again. But between now and then, what was left was the invitation to copy something from Fr's life, perhaps something amidst the virtues summarised by his friend and classmate as: the humility to be unassuming, the courage to be forgiving, and the faithfulness to duty by which one puts one's whole heart and soul into the tasks one is assigned to.
RIP "Father", "Abbot" "Mr Singot"
May St John Mary Vianney, Patron of your last post of service, and Patron of priests intercede for you.
May St Cecilia, whose memorial is celebrated today, welcome you to the choir of the elect Amen!
By Fr. Herbert Niba
I used to think the Stations of the Cross were a devotion for lent only; but reading the lives of the saints totally changed my mind. In "The Way of the Cross in the footsteps of St John Paul II", discover how everyday life events can be an invitation to follow Christ more closely and love him more dearly. It's a rich spiritual meal served with touching stories. It will be released soon!!