In Solidarity with Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis
September 13, 2004
"To Achieve genuine and authentic peace, there must be reconciliation…but to have reconciliation and therefore peace there must be justice. If there is no justice, if the fundamental rights of our people are not respected, it will be near impossible for genuine peace and reconciliation to come about in our country. Faith-based organizations can and should play a pivotal role.” [Archbishop Michael Francis presentation in Washington D.C, November 22, 1999]
Would it be expedient to say that as a practicing Roman Catholic I am not clothed with the authority to describe the works and achievements of this noble and honorable representation of the Apostle Saint Peter and Shepherd of God’s Flocks in Liberia? But after this powerful voice of human rights, truth, wisdom, justice, hope and peace, Archbishop Michael K. Francis has been silenced by an unfortunate illness especially in times like these in Liberia, I do find it obligatory to pay him tribute in calling on all peace loving members of the human race to continue the good works begun as we hope and pray for genuine peace, justice and reconciliation in Liberia.
Born on February 12, 1936 in Kpakala town, Bomi County, Bishop Michael Kpakala Francis continued his primary schooling at St. Martin’s in Gbarnga and St. Mary’s in Sanniquellie from 1944 – 1950. He did his graduate studies by cross registering in three Universities in the Washington D.C. area. Bishop Francis studied Moral Theology with emphasis in Bio-ethics, Medical Ethics and Formation Psychology at the Catholic University of America, Bio-ethics and Medical Ethics at the Georgetown University and Ecumenical Theology at the Howard University School of Religion. He was ordained Deacon and Priest on August 15, 1962 and August 4, 1963 respectively in Liberia. After thirteen years, his Holiness Pope Paul VI appointed Father Michael Francis Vicar Apostolic of Monrovia and subsequently ordained Bishop on December 19, 1976 by Archbishop Dermot Carroll, SMA former Bishop of Monrovia and Nuncio Apostolic as principal Ordaining prelate. [Source: Pax ET Caritas Christi – Mass for Archbishop, Francis-August 28, 2004, St. Gabriel’s Parish, Washington D.C].
During the 38 years as Priest and as Bishop, under his watch, Bishop Francis after taking his motto: "The Peace and Charity of Christ” presided over the Diocese of Monrovia [Cape Mount, Bomi, Montserrado, Grand Bassa, River Cess and Margibi Counties and the Statutory district of Gbarma and Bopolu]. While the Diocese of Gbarnga, included Lofa, Bong and Nimba Counties and lastly the Diocese of Cape Palmas comprised of Counties of the Southeastern region of Liberia, Sinoe, Maryland, Grand Gedeh, etc were being headed by other respected prelates. These various Dioceses were created to "co-ordinate the pastoral, education, health and socio-economic development programs” of the Catholic mission in Liberia. During these times the Catholic Secretariat along with the Catholic Justice and Peace commission were established. And not to leave out the Catholic Herald, the newspaper that issues joint pastoral letters. Additionally, its voice line for truth, [ELCM] Radio Veritas in Monrovia and the National Pastoral Center in Gbarnga were built.
Presently the Diocese of Monrovia under the Shepherd, Bishop Francis,
has 29 parishes. This include: St. Dominic, St. Tuzundi, St. Christopher,
St. Pius X, St. Anthony, Sacred Heart and St. Kizito, my maternal
parish. In addition the Diocese also has 12 education institutions
including St. Kizito high school, St. Teresa Convent, Cathedral and
St. Michael high school [Gardnerville] where I was secondarily schooled.
Furthermore in this line, the Diocese has 11 Health institutions comprising
of St. Joseph Catholic Hospital, Bishop Collins Health Center in Logan
town, Sister Barbara Ann Memorial Health center in Gardnerville and
the St. Peter Claver Health center in Buchanan. And lastly the Diocese
of Monrovia is proud to have 32 Priests, 30 Sisters, 13 Brothers,
80 Catechists and 32 major Seminarians, all under Shepherd’s
watch. The pastoral work of Bishop Francis is countless and no matter
what I say or write herein cannot in any manner, shape or form describe
my gratitude and the works of Bishop Michael Kpakala Francis, whose
thunderous voice of justice, hope and truth has been muted by what
Health Practitioners sadly called Stroke.
In the late 60s and early 70s, having being taught by Bishop Francis at the St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, my father, Aagon F. Tingba, Sr., told me many beautiful stories about Bishop Francis [early 1980s]. He told me the kind of disciplinarian Bishop he was at the time. And in fact how Bishop would wake up very early and take his seat at the top of St. Mary’s high school campus overlooking Sanniquellie city in search of late students. And you don’t want to know what Bishop would do to any student falling victim of his watch. But he further mentioned how Bishop would encourage intellectual competitions amongst students and award scholarships to deserving scholarly students of which my father was a beneficiary. He was very grateful to Bishop Francis and for the level at which he found himself. And as such he decided for me to be attend catholic school. I was sent to St. Michael Catholic High School in Gardnerville.
One upon a time in 1988 at the senior high school campus going towards New Georgia estate, the Principal, Mr. Joseph Harris, announced the coming of Bishop Francis to talk to the students and to conduct our reading and comprehension practice – SRA. I had not visited the Cathedral by then to have witness Bishop Francis as a celebrant. It was my first glance at this handsome, light skin, young man with smiles all over his face. He was dressed elegantly in his white robe with his Shepherd rod. We all ran from our classrooms with the hope of taking the front seats to get a better view of the Archbishop. Interestingly it was in the library and we were allowed to enter per class. As Prefect of my class, I was allowed to introduce my class. I could not believe the moment. Standing in front of our Archbishop and in front the man that has taught my father years back and whom my dad has spoken so beautifully about. I was amazed. Whoa, well, I did my part and to call long story short, we had a nice time with the Archbishop and concluded with his beloved song "What A Friend We Have In Jesus”.
Following our session, I went over to him to formally introduce myself. He said instantly, "Are you as smart as your father”? I smiled like a shy little boy and slowly nodded my head in affirmation as any teenager of my status would. He then continued, "Do you want to be a Priest or a brother”? I didn’t answer but responded with a smile again. He softly laughed and then he told me a story about how an elderly lady had tried to discourage him and had described his handsome looking status and how other opportunities lied before him when he decided to be a priest. But God had a mission for him, he concluded. My meeting with him was cordial, fatherly and he was equally glad of meeting a second generation of Tingba. From that day, I’ve continued to follow many of Bishop’s utterances and pastoral letters that were often read in Church by my parish priest. And I must admit that it had helped changed me a lot towards developing a critically mind and advocating for peace, justice and speaking without fear. And for this I am particularly grateful to Bishop Francis.
During such time where Liberia is practically at a cross road in her [at least] 14 years of murders, loots, deaths and destructions; one of the most powerful voices in our quest for peace, justice, reconciliation and rebuilding lies in his recovery bed at his Washington D.C. home with the hope of recovering from what has been termed as a stroke. On August 28, 2004, I formed a part of a Solidarity Mass for the Archbishop at the St. Gabriel’s Catholic Parish in Washington DC. Upon entering I was stunned to have seen the once voice of truth and justice glued to his seat in a wheel chair. We immediately approached him while he was being carried in preparation for the Mass. We were about four and we spoke individually, with the normal Liberian greetings no matter how we even see a person’s condition. "Hello Bishop…how are you”? The once energetic Bishop only nodded his head as if to say can’t you see? And when I took a closer look, he could not move his right arm freely. It was resting on an extended arm of his wheel chair motionless. He had lost substantial weight. Tears could not be held back. It was an unbelievable sight of the Shepherd. We could only hear hissing of teeth and swallowing of cloaked saliva down our throats to stop the tears from falling. He vanished from our sights as his attendant wheeled him in preparation for the Mass.
Msgr. Rev. Dr. Robert Tikpor served as Chief Celebrant while Msgr. Gabriel Jubwe and Fr. Thomas Delaney served as Co-Celebrants respectively. As usual Msgr. Tikpor gave what many regarded as a powerful homily. It was about a farmer and a stubborn bull. In order to get the bull into the stall, the farmer had to pull in the opposite direction and the bull was expected to react likewise. That is, if the farmer intends for the bull to proceed head on into the stall, then logically, the bull must be pulled by the tail and the opposite reaction from the bull will lead it into the stall head on. Many of the bulls had been carried into the stall by this process. But there was a very stubborn one. The poor farmer pulled and pulled the tail and still the stubborn bull stood in defiance. The poor farmer applied more vigorous pressure and this time around, the bull responded to the immense pressure from the farmer and leaped straight ahead [over the stall] into its exiled [Calabar] stall. And the poor farmer sat helpless, fatigued and breathless. And there he sat [Bishop Francis] practically speechless and exhausted but at least the stubborn bull is no longer among the good ones. Hence, Msgr. Tikpor continued, there was no need to weep for the poor farmer because the job was done excellently as expected of him. Therefore, we as a people and as Liberians have to rejoice and be glad and look to the future.
The episcopacy and human rights advocacy works of Bishop Francis cannot be stressed any further. Under his pastoral watch and deliberations, the Archbishop has made many impacts on Liberia and its peace process, social teachings, human rights, education and health. He has written over a hundred pastoral letters on a variety of subjects ranging from our individual lives, corruption, sexual corruption, lies and deception, injustice, human rights and yes of course the dignity of the human race. And for this, in 1999 he won the Robert F. Kennedy award for Human Rights. He has also served the University of Liberia as its Board Chairman, President for the Liberia Council of Churches, President of the Inter-religious Council of Liberia including Chancellor of the Don Bosco Polytechnic.
Indeed, the Archbishop’s silence in these times of Liberia’s political dilemma is greatly felt. However, as often said we cannot question our Creator [Almighty God] when such situation faces mankind. We can only hope and pray that God will have mercy and heal Bishop Francis from this unfortunate illness. As I contemplate about Bishop Francis public utterances, I am reminded of a Children’s fable about the King who was deceived into believing he wore clothes made of special fabric when in actuality he was naked. All of his subjects were afraid to tell him and instead, praised the king on his magnificent clothes. All, that is, except a child who dared to speak the truth. The king was quick to recognize the reality of the child’s words and, eventually, rewarded him handsomely. Bishop Francis not even expecting a handsome reward was never afraid to tell any of the Liberian leaders of his time, when they were naked. He spoke to defend justice, to protect human rights, enhance democracy and to spread the doctrine of Jesus Christ nationwide. And for this his voice is greatly missed.
As Liberians and the nation-state [Liberia] pray for the Archbishop, I am convinced that there are many Archbishop Francis out there. Be it in the Catholic Church, other Christian Churches, the Muslim Community, Liberian technocrats, intellectuals and the entire citizenry. We must be challenged morally, ethically and socio-politically inclined to take the baton and continue the race for truth, justice, reconciliation and peace that were begun by those who we deeply admire as we approach elections 2005. For the "world should never keep silent when evil has been perpetrated around the globe; we members of the human race, and we have a co-responsibility to see that our sisters and brothers, wherever they are, be respected and live a humane life”. [Archbishop Francis’ Acceptance Speech for the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award- November 22, 1999]
There are many who had recovered from such illness and the Archbishop is of no exception - all glory be to God in prayers. May the Almighty God bless us all, save the Archbishop and help Liberia. Thank you Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis for the job well done as a good Shepherd and a poor farmer. I’ll see you as a celebrant soon, God’s willing!