CV NEWS FEED // An African bishop is seeking to advance the case of the first catechist to be martyred in Equatorial Guinea during the 1930s.
During a visit to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) International this week, Bishop Miguel Angel Nguema Bee of Ebebiyin shared the story of José Si Esono, who was martyred for his role in the first wave of evangelization in Equatorial Guinea.
“We want to open a beatification process for José Si Esono,” said Bishop Miguel Ángel. “He was a remarkable example of great faith, thanks to whom evangelisation managed to penetrate to these areas”.
Christianity first made its way to Equatorial Guinea in 1924, after a Claretian catechist approached Esono at a market in a coastal city almost 80 miles from his hometown, where he had traveled to sell his coffee. The missionary taught Esono, who had never heard of Christianity, how to pray the rosary.
The bishop continued:
This catechist managed to get his entire community to embrace the Gospel. What is more, he also got them to accept white people. Whites were considered hostile, colonists who mistreated and oppressed, but he managed to get the people not to attack the Claretians, by interceding on their behalf. And that is how the first mission in the Diocese of Ebibeyin began. In 2024, we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the Gospel into my diocese.
Several years into his mission, however, Esono attempted to convince people to stop praying to their traditional amulets, and to bring them to him to burn. The village chief then accused Esono of witchcraft, and he was burned alive.
Nearly forty years later, after Equatorial Guinea was liberated from Spain in 1968, the country was ruled by a cruel dictatorship which prohibited Christian worship. While recalling his own experience of religious persecution during this time, the bishop emphasized the importance of catechists in keeping the faith alive:
I remember when I was small, in the 70s, my grandmother and my mother would take us to work on a farm on Sundays. They’d make us grab our tools and we’d head into the woods, where we would be met by a catechist and celebrate the Word of God. We’d take spiritual communion and spend two hours in discussion, before returning to the community, as if we had been working
The country currently has 46 priests to serve more than 347 chapels, according to the bishop. Thus, he added, “Catechists are not simply people who spread the faith and prepare the faithful for the sacraments. They also play leadership roles in the communities. Without them, there would be no faith.”
There are approximately 380 catechists in the Diocese of Ebebiyin now, who all receive nine months of training in order to carry out their work.