By Atty. Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
Communication teaches us that when people communicate, whether it is done verbally or nonverbally, the person to whom the communication is directed will surmise from initial comments on what that piece of communication is intended for. When I received a call on Sunday morning (May 19) from photojournalist Gregory Stemn in Liberia, I knew from his initial comment that this was not a pleasant piece of information. When he called that day, he began by saying, “sorry for waking you up this morning.” I knew that this would be followed by bad news. He then went on:”sorry to give you this sad news. Archbishop died this morning.”
Obviously with this heart-rending news, I became dispirited and even dumbfounded and only said, “The country is bereaved; A hero has fallen,” as his role in the Liberian society touched the lives of every Liberian in that he was not selective or discriminatory in his advocacy for the collective good of all. My next concern was about Kofi woods, the former Director of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), who was very close to the “old man.” Mr. Stemn responded that he was in Buchanan, but was on his way to Monrovia upon hearing about the Archbishop’s death.
For me, his death news was shocking because few weeks ago, prior to travelling to the United States, the management and staff of THE INQUIRER Newspaper bestowed honor on the Archbishop who had been sick for almost a decade. The event, which was a break away from the normal tradition of paper’s celebration, was part of the 22nd anniversary celebration of the newspaper. Traditionally, the newspaper always begins its anniversary with a divine worship service to be followed by other activities such as honoring. But this year, perhaps for some reasons, the honoring of the Archbishop cropped up without any hesitation and objection, as this was unanimously accepted. And so, this was a break away from its normal tradition.
During that occasion held at his home in Sinkor, I recounted the many contributions of the Archbishop and described him as a HERO because of his role in advocating for a better society for all in the country. I recalled his role in restoring peace to this country and his fearless moves against human rights violations in the country. I said at the time that his presence in Liberia during the civil conflict built hope in many Liberians to remain “on the ground” despite the state of insecurity and uncertainty that engulfed the nation as a result of the civil conflict. I mentioned at the honoring occasion that his presence gave the INQUIRER, (founded January 15, 1991) as the first independent newspaper in postwar Liberia the strength to continue to function, hoping that peace was in sight at the time.
Believing that members of the church are also members of the society and that whatever affects the society affects them too. The Archbishop did not only circumscribe his work to that of the church, but also touched on the ills of the society. As the Archbishop he did not “eat crab with shame,” or “pick and choose” in his advocacy while some unscrupulous individuals and greedy or power-drunk politicians did not like him for that, for which, some of them even made derogatory comments or statements about the Archbishop. Notwithstanding, he was not deterred or perturbed by these, as he continued to “hit the nail on the head.” Noticeably, his desire for social justice, peace and human rights, was manifested by the setting of institutions such as the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JP)C) with then Public Works Minister Samuel Kofi Woods as its first Director. Besides, his regular issuance of what was known as “Pastoral Letter,” that also dealt with national issues made him to command the respect of the Liberian people.
As the nation mourns the irreparable loss of this great son of the soil, our admiration for him should not only be seen from our tears and weeping, as well as our eulogies, but by doing those things for which this fallen hero “put his neck on the chopping board.” The first is to ensure the rule of law and adhere to the rule of law, treating all as being equal before the law. The next is the respect for the basic and fundamental rights of every citizen; equitable distribution of the resources of the country so that every citizen benefit from the nation’s pile and that a few will not luxuriate, while the bulk of the people live in abject poverty and continue to campaign against corruption that continues to deprive the nation of some of its resources to cater to its citizens and undertake development programs.
As we go through this lugubrious period for the home going of the Archbishop; we should not forget that the fight against the cancer, called “corruption,” which the Archbishop also spoke against in the Liberian society will continue unabated. From my interaction with him before his illness I do know that it has always been his wish that the fight against corruption will not be a window-dressing situation, but a serious one, so that those found in such malpractices be dealt with to serve as a deterrent to others.
For me, it will be a paradox if we claim to be admirers of the fallen hero, if we consciously fail to live up to those aspirations he stood for over the years. His dream of a better and peaceful society, a society or country in which there will be no marginalization, a society in which there will be press freedom and freedom of speech,(which relatively speaking exist) as well as a society in which democratic values and tenets will flourish and furthermore, a society in which there will be religious tolerance.
To the church, as it mourns the passing away of one of its pillars, the challenge now is to keep his legacy by continuing those things he stood for and also make sure that RADIO VERITAS be back on the air and also reinvigorate the JPC, the brainchild of the Archbishop.
MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PERFECT PEACE!