By Eva-Maria Kolmann
Day after day, little Jean-Thierry made ice from twenty litres of lemon juice to sell on the street. He never even took a tiny taste of it himself, no matter how dry his throat became from the heat and the dust. He was doing this to help his parents earn their livelihood, because the family was poor. But in his heart the little boy carried a big dream: he wanted to be like Jesus! And in order to achieve this, he wanted to become a priest.
The boy who never took a taste of the lemon ice and who wanted to be like Jesus, never did become a priest. In 2006, he died at the age of only 23. But many other young men in Cameroon and its neighbouring countries have discovered their calling through him. Because when Jean-Thierry Ebogo died, he was known for having lived a holy life or in fama sanctitatis. The beatification process was already concluded on the diocesan level in 2014, and so Jean-Thierry now officially bears the title of “Servant of God”. Thousands attended his funeral and, even today, countless people feel drawn to him; he has helped many. Large numbers of people come to visit his grave. Before he died, he promised to give Africa a veritable “rain” of vocations to the priesthood. He seems to have kept his word…
Actually, he was just a normal boy, cheerful and helpful, popular among his mates, but also among the girls. He was born on 4 February 1982 in Bamenda. At the age of only five or six, however, he was already fascinated by the missionaries and the crosses they wore around their necks. From then on, his longing to become a priest grew ever stronger. When he was 13, he wrote poems in which he expressed his deep and gentle piety, “I entrust you with my life, my being for all of eternity. Can I find better elsewhere? No, you are truly the best, of this I hold the proof. You created me, you made me. With love you crowned me.”
However, it did not just stop at beautiful words, because he followed the call of God without hesitation. At the age of 21, he entered the monastery of the Discalced Carmelites in Nkoabang. In 2004, he was admitted to the novitiate and took the monastic name “Jean-Thierry of the Child Jesus and of the Passion”. And these two mysteries were to have profound impact on his future: a trusting childhood before God in the discipleship of the Saviour, who became a child, and the painful Way of the Cross that he suffered together with Christ. These are two sides of the same coin and the young Jean-Thierry was drawn deeply into this mystery. Only a few weeks after he was admitted to the novitiate, a malignant tumour was discovered on his right leg. His leg had to be amputated, but the young monk accepted the severe pain and all the suffering he had to endure with complete devotion to the will of God and a smile that never faltered. He sacrificed his pain for his calling to the monkhood and priesthood.
In 2005, he was taken to Italy for treatment, but he already had metastases. When he was brought into the hospital in Milan, the physician exclaimed, “Whom have you brought me? This is truly a saint!” because she could not believe that someone could withstand such suffering without complaint. His condition was critical and he was in great pain. However, his only concern was whether he would still be ordained to the priesthood. “I only want to be healed so that I can become a priest,” he said.
With a special dispensation, he took the final vows on 8 December 2005, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, in his hospital room. His mother was at his side. He did not live long enough to be ordained to the priesthood, because he died shortly thereafter on 5 January 2006. His mother could not be with him because she no longer had a residence permit for Italy and so had to return to Cameroon. When she said goodbye to him on 26 December and both knew that they would never see each other again in this world, Jean-Thierry said to her, “God’s will be done! Mama, remember that you offered me to HIM right after I was born. It is the same as when you bring a friend a kid goat when you go visit him. You don’t ask this friend later what he did with the kid goat. He may have raised it, he may have eaten it. Now I am the kid goat of God and we must not ask God what He did with the kid goat that you gave to Him right after my birth.” When he died, his last words were, “How beautiful Jesus is.”
The biggest dream of young Jean-Thierry of the Child Jesus and of the Passion did not come true. However, just as a grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, his saintly suffering and death have opened the hearts of many young men to God’s call. Particularly in Cameroon and its neighbour, the Central African Republic, the Carmelite order rejoices in numerous vocations and the seminaries are full. But his example is not only effective in Africa. On 9 September 2014, Cardinal Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, in whose archdiocese Jean-Thierry died, said on the occasion of the conclusion of the diocesan phase of his beatification process, “Since we were the ones who brought the gospel to so many places on earth, we now welcome with joy the arrival of evangelists and witnesses from these countries.”
When he was seventeen years old, Jean Thierry wrote in one of his poems, “I am certain of joy. I will live.” With this certainty and with the ways in which God worked in his life, the young boy from Cameroon has become a gift for the church in Europe as well.