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The cardinal in Cameroon

The Story


It was front-page news in November 1967 when the Vatican announced that Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger was stepping down as Archbishop of Montreal. He was leaving a comfortable post to work at the Catholic mission near Yaounde, Cameroon. Now, four years later, Léger's years of hard work in the former French colony are coming to fruition. As a new polio rehabilitation centre for children opens, the CBC's Man Alive profiles Léger and his philosophy on working in Africa.

Medium: Television
Program: Man Alive
Broadcast Date: April 3, 1972
Guest(s): Lise Carignon, Bernard Fanwa, Paul-Émile Léger, Andre Vere
Host: Roy Bonisteel
Duration: 18:31
Photo: Photo by Ken Bell; copyright National Archives of Canada

Did You know?


• At a 1967 press conference announcing his decision, Léger read from a statement which said, in part: "It is for the greater good of the church of Montreal that I have become a simple missionary in the midst of the poorest of the citizens of the Third World."
• Léger first visited Cameroon in 1963 on a visit to some of Canada's missions in Africa.

• Léger's missionary work began in 1933 when, as a young priest with the Sulpician order near Paris, he was sent to Japan. He established a Sulpician seminary there and learned Japanese.
• In 1939 he returned to Canada and rose through the church hierarchy, becoming Archbishop of Montreal in 1950. As Archbishop he participated in the Second Vatican Council, taking a progressive stand on matters of church policy.

• Cardinal Léger was brother to Jules Léger, who was Canada's governor-general from 1974 to 1979. Jules Léger died in 1980.
• Cardinal Léger worked in Cameroon until 1979, when he returned to Canada. His humanitarian work continued with the Jules and Paul-Émile Léger Foundation, which was established in 1981 to continue the charitable projects Cardinal Léger launched in 1948.
• In 1991 Cardinal Léger died in Montreal at age 87.

• Leprosy, otherwise known as Hansen's disease, mainly affects the nerves and skin, causing numbness, lesions and, in extreme cases, loss of fingers and toes.
• It is thought to be transmitted by respiratory droplets, but researchers believe 95 per cent of the population is naturally immune to leprosy. Treatment is with antibiotics.
• In 2003 a team of researchers at McGill University isolated a gene that makes people vulnerable to leprosy.

• In 2000 there were about 740,000 cases of leprosy worldwide, most of them in India, Brazil, Myanmar and Madagascar.
• Cameroon reported about 16,500 cases in 2000 — less than 0.1 per cent of its population.
• The United States reports about 600 active cases of leprosy each year.
• Canada had three cases of leprosy in 1998, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

• Though European settlers and slave traders had been in the region for centuries, Cameroon was formally colonized by Germany in 1884. It was ceded to France and Britain during the First World War, and they each had a territory until 1960, when the French colony declared independence. A year later a referendum was held in the British territory. Part of the territory joined the neighbouring country of Nigeria, and part joined French Cameroon.

• The rehabilitation centre in Cameroon was built with $1.5 million from Léger's charitable fund and $1 million from the Canadian government.
• From the day of its opening in 1972, the centre was gradually turned over to the Cameroonians. By 1976, 90 per cent of its 100 employees were African.
• Care of each patient cost $1,500 per year when the centre opened. International donors covered these costs, but patients' families made a nominal contribution — often a goat.


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