Muslims Extol Bishop Francis…As Catholics Declare Two-Day Mourning

By Alva M. Wolokolie

The Chairman of the National Muslim Council of Liberia and President of the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia (IRCL) Sheikh Kafumba Konneh, has extolled Catholic Archbishop Emeritus Michael Kpakala Francis for his stance against harms in the Liberian society.  With deep sadness upon hearing about the home going of his friend and brother Bishop Francis on Sunday, May 19, 2013, Sheikh Konneh wants the Catholic Church to keep the faith and should not lose hope because God who sent    Michael Francis into this world has decided to call him.

In an exclusive interview with the INQUIRER yesterday at his Clay Street residence, Sheikh Konneh said despite the fact that he was saddened when he heard the death news of the Bishop, he was not also surprise because death is inevitable.

“Everyone will return one by one or in a group. I was touched as a religious person but able to withstand the news because I know that once you are born into this world, you will have to leave one day,” Sheikh Konneh said.

Sheikh Konneh then recalled that Bishop Francis’ effort for change has more effect on him beginning with Octopus 1992 in October, world war 1,2, and 3 where he was a prime target.

The Muslim prelate disclosed that he has already led a delegation to the residence of the Bishop on 8th Street in Sinkor to express his condolence to the church but could not meet the current Archbishop of Monrovia, Jerome Lewis Zeigler due to a closed door meeting that was on-going among the bishops and priests. He however said a Priest was sent to meet him and his delegates when they officially sympathized with the Catholic Church.

When asked as to what would he (Konneh) miss Archbishop Francis for beginning his days of active service as a clergyman, He told our reporter that he will miss Bishop Francis firstly for his productivity in the area of human development, frankness in the area of social justice and love in the area of patriotism or nationalism.

“I got to know Bishop Francis at the time he was in Nimba County during the 60’s when I was working with the government. So it has been over 30 years now. We have lost a religionist, socialist and a great personality. I do not know him to be a trouble maker. He opposed violence; that is why he was an outspoken renowned clergy man for his fiery sermons and stance against regimes of former Presidents. As we mourn, we will pray for someone to come like him,” Sheikh Kafumba Konneh asserted.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Secretariat has announced a two-day suspension of all classes within the Catholic School System (CSS) beginning yesterday and ends today in observance of Bishop Francis’ home-going.

Archbishop Francis who never fully recovered since he suffered a stroke in 2004 has been ailing for quite some time. His death leaves a major vacuum in the Catholic Church of Liberia.

Born February 12, 1936 in Kakata, Margibi County, Archbishop Francis became a priest in 1963 and eventually became Archbishop of Monrovia in 1981, before resigning due to his ailing health.

Archbishop Francis’ death was announced by his successor, His Grace Archbishop Lewis Zeigler on state radio ELBC on Sunday May 19, 2013. The former Archbishop reportedly died at his 8th.  Street Sinkor residence. The late Archbishop started his primary schooling at St. Martin’s in Gbarnga and St. Mary’s in Sanniquellie from 1944 – 1950.

Archbishop 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. The late Archbishop was ordained Deacon and Priest on August 15, 1962 and August 4, 1963 respectively in Liberia.

He was appointed by his Holiness Pope Paul VI as 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.

The late Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis’ candid and fiery views from the pulpit on national issues spoke truth to power and put him at odds with leaders of his day.

Archbishop Francis previously 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. His death on Sunday sent shockwave across the nation and the Catholic Church.

A tireless voice for the voiceless, fearless, and selfless, he was preparing to give his life so that Liberians can be better people.

He traveled in the world just for the good of Liberians and for other people. He lived basically a life of poverty. He had nothing for himself. Everything was for somebody, for the good of other people.

Archbishop Michael Francis once told the BBC that he had been a servant of God since the age of 17. But it was his candid and fiery views from the pulpit on national issues spoke truth to power and put him at odds with leaders of his day.

Bishop Francis was a former high school principal and former chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Liberia. He also chaired a number of national, regional and continental bishops’ conferences.

He published 75 pastoral letters in which he spoke out bitterly, mainly against immoral practices, injustices, abuse of human and fundamental rights and corruption and preached national reconciliation and democratic tenets.

The 77-year-old played football, volleyball and basketball until 1951 when his leg was broken. Archbishop Francis was fluent in several Liberian dialects including Mano, Gio and Vai.