By Alva M. Wolokolie
Public Works Minister and former Executive Director of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church (JPC) Atty. Samuel Kofi Woods has called to mind the endurance, simplicity, humility and deep sense of sacrifice of the late Archbishop Emeritus Michael Kpakala Francis which has served as a guide for a young generation tempted by greed, blind ambition and power.
Minister Woods who served as a Human Rights lawyer and a student activist at the University of Liberia could not hold back his pain when he heard about the demise of Bishop Francis whom he considered a “Hero” after long years of struggle against tyranny, state gangsters and national complacency.
The Public Works Minister also recalled that Bishop Francis maintained his vow and demonstrated that beyond those vows lie values deeply ingrained in his character.
“A simple man with a human touch to all, you helped many of us kids from squalor. Around the Cathedral, the kids called you “Poor No Friend”. Many evenings you walked around the Cathedral talking to kids and sharing gifts with them. These are moments I cherish. You frowned on lust and love for materialism. You said to me in death we will carry nothing. We live to help others. Liberia can be a better country,” Woods asserted.
As a hero forced into reflection after years of battle, Minister Woods said God Almighty said to him (Bishop Francis) like he said to Moses that the promise land is nigh but he will not be the same actor.
The former JPC boss mentioned that he had the blessings of strengthening his career and growth with the Bishop’s guidance when he drank from the fountain of wisdom of Bishop Francis. According to him, he cherishes each moment but cherishes them even more now and when he reflects on the Bishop’s travels in and out of Liberia and the Inter-Faith Mediation Process and his leadership on interreligious dialogue, he (Woods) can now appreciate the difficulties he (Bishop) had discerning the current state of affairs in Liberia.
Woods expressed hope that Liberia remembers the moments when the little light shined in the darkness, when there was a lonely voice in the wilderness dominated by blood and inhumanity.
He further expressed optimism that the Press remembered Bishop Francis when he led the campaign for press freedom in the midst of lawlessness; when the first legal aid program to defend journalists was launched by the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) in collaboration with the Press Union of Liberia (PUL).
Now the Press Union is in the position to establish its own legal defense fund. When you provided assistance to media houses destroyed by the war in Monrovia assuring them that the Church will be their ally to ensure that no mouth is silenced, no pen is intimidated; you insisted that the Radio ELRCM after being attacked and destroyed by fire will not be silenced. It was restored and renamed Radio VERITAS. Now in the midst of peace, we can now boast of an open and free press, when many newspapers, radio stations and talk shows flourish. The meaning of press freedom and social responsibility is a gem difficult to find.
“My Hero looks on…In 1991 when we started discussions about the establishment of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission; you shared with me your determination to ensure that the Church, the moral leader assume its rightful place as the voice for the voiceless”.
“We did! You provided the leadership along with the support of the late Bishop Dotu Sekey and now retired Bishop Boniface Dalieh. In the midst of chaos and war you insisted that it was time to advocate for those who suffered their pains in silence. The JPC became the leading voice for respect for human rights and the rule of law. Now as you look on, you continue to ask the question what is happening to the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC). Institutions must live on…It will and must be revived”.
Minister Woods also remembered Michael Francis for one of his sayings that the respect for time is a human rights issue, and it is about mutual respect for others, discipline, vision and efficiency. He admitted that he (Woods) has carried with him in all of the responsibilities to which he availed himself. He said it had helped him to deliver far beyond expectations. “These are moments that I cherish. I cherish this and I thank you very much,” he said.