There is an African proverb that goes, “Educate a boy and you educate a person; educate a girl and you educate a village.” The proverb could go further: “Educate a seminarian and you educate an entire region.” Human Life International takes great care in training pro-life seminarians, because we know that one dedicated priest can influence hundreds of people. Fr. Toum is an example of this multiplying effect of pro-life training.
Moved by HLI’s Pro-life Training
Father Toum was introduced to the pro-life movement during one of his first years at seminary in 2007. In that year, George Wirnkar, HLI’s regional director for Francophone Africa, came to Toum’s seminary in Cameroon and gave a talk about current threats against human life, including birth control, homosexuality, abortion, prostitution, and AIDS. Toum was inspired. He was struck by how deeply society is steeped in a Culture of Death. He realized that he needed to respond.
Toum participated in several HLI-organized pro-life training sessions for seminarians. The training sessions equipped him with information about methods to help restore the Culture of Life. He made it his first priority to train himself through personal research and reading. Seeing the importance of associating with other seminarians, he created a Seminarians for Life group at the philosophical seminary of Bafoussam and the theological seminary of Douala.
Encouraged by Today’s Youth
In the parishes where Toum was sent, he started speaking to young people about the Culture of Life. He was surprised by the Christian and human virtues displayed by many of the young people that he met. Despite the decline in morality that is common in his diocese, Toum found many young persons who still believed in chastity and fidelity. Since these topics are not commonly addressed, he encouraged them to give testimonies at evening sessions in parishes that were popular among young people during school holidays. Thanks to these activities, Toum was able to establish pro-life groups in two parishes.
Inspired by Mother Teresa
Toum was ordained to the transitional diaconate in 2012. Because of his interest in defending life and family, his bishop placed him in charge of the diocesan office for the pastoral care of families. Humbled by the trust from his bishop, the brand new deacon was not sure he was up to such a tremendous task. He took his inspiration from the experience of Blessed Mother Teresa. “She saw the misery in Calcutta,” Toum says. “Some people died alone abandoned by the side of the road like animals. Others saw the same terrible situation, but she was the first to do something concrete, first for one person, then for another, and another. Others were inspired by her example and joined her. She explained her actions in this way, ‘If you fixate on the crowd, you will never start. If, however, you look at one person at a time, you can do something.’” This is how the nun began her Missionaries of Charity in 1950—an order that now has over 4,500 sisters in 133 countries. This is the power of the few at work.
Helping Couples Fix Their Marriages
After his ordination to the priesthood on June 1, 2013, Fr. Toum began his real work. He started in the parish where he was assigned, putting together youth groups and pro-life programs. On Wednesdays, he taught catechism classes on Christian, human, and family values. He also started a group for couples, married and non-married, who could share their stories. Fr. Toum contributed insights to the group from the Bible and Catholic teaching. The group proved very effective. Through the support of Fr. Toum and the other couples, many were able to regularize their marital situations and five couples celebrated marriages by the end of the year.
Fr. Toum also gave talks and showed films on abortion, the necessity of communication, and the difference between men and women. He realized in his parish work that his programs were very necessary to the parishioners, spaces for them to share their life experiences and witness.
Keeping the Street Clean
“A street is kept clean when everyone sweeps the section in front of their home” is a local proverb in Cameroon. As Fr. Toum increased his pro-life work in his parish, other parishes started to imitate him.
The next year Fr. Toum was transferred to an urban parish. In the city, the parishes were all close together, so new ideas could be shared quickly. Fr. Toum visited many of these parishes, and invited couples all over the city to recollections, weekends for couples, talks, and meetings focused on family life.
Fighting for the Rights of Pregnant Girls
Fr. Toum has fought hard to reverse the decision to expel pregnant girls from Catholics schools. He has met with much opposition, but it is very important to him, as the policy has created a tremendous temptation for girls to abort and thus conceal out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Many were also displeased when Fr. Toum demanded that condoms no longer be sold in the Catholic hospitals in the diocese, but he was relentless.
Working with University Students
Fr. Toum has also taken initiative with university students, trying to impact them with talks on the threats against life. He has created a pro-life group at the University of Ngoundéré, where students help spread the message with pro-life t-shirts. He also wrote a publication on cohabitation, a practice that in increasingly common.
Continuing Cameroon’s Pro-life Training Today
Today, Fr. Toum is busy setting up a pro-life program and a class on natural family planning. Every week, he hosts an hour-long program on Radio Maria Cameroon called “family crossroads.” He pays special attention to situations where people are “wounded in their affective life.” He invites couples to live in an upright live, according to family and Christian values.
Fr. Toum is thankful to all those who have influenced him in his mission and who helped prepare him for his pastoral work, spreading the Culture of Life throughout Cameroon.