A Discourse With My Hero Archbishop Francis On His 77th Natal Day…A Hero Now Looks On

By: Atty. Samuel Kofi Woods

This is a discourse with my dear friend, mentor, father, patron, spiritual leader and benefactor. On today your natal day, I cannot be at your side due to urgent travels. On my travel, I woke up to a dream on the morning of the 6th of February and was thus moved to pen you few lines. I commit to pen you these lines every year on the 12th of February:  your natal day.

After long years of struggle against tyranny, state gangsters and national complacency, you now look on in silence. In silence, you look at the many that come by your side. You ask them questions they cannot answer. You beckon to some who cannot understand. They come for many reasons known to them but God knows our hearts best!

As a hero forced into reflection after years of battle, God, our Almighty; has said to you like he said to Moses that the promise land is nigh but you will not be the same actor. Now you will look at other actors some of them your children with their faults and frailties and allow them to chart their path of destiny. Your looks will be of regrets, of surprise, of pains but also of joy tempering with the reality that life is imperfect.

God in his infinite wisdom has been good and blessed you for your works and now you can see the success and imperfection of a world you fought to make right. You did well! You did well and on today your natal day, you need to know that you did well and the struggle for justice rages on. It rages on because you knew that it will not end as long as we live. You did not seek perfection but rather sought the moral and legal imperatives that were possible; those simple things we make complex in our blindness, our insensitivity, indifference, envy and greed. In all of your pastorals, you challenged us to correct the ills in our society.

I had the blessings of strengthening my career and growth with your guidance. I drank from your fountain of wisdom. I cherish each moment but cherish them even more now. Oh! When I reflect on our travels in and out of Liberia and the Inter-Faith Mediation Process and your leadership on interreligious dialogue, I can appreciate the difficulties you have discerning the current state of affairs in Liberia.

Your insistence on time and the need for national consciousness on respect for time will eventually permeate our national sojourn. The benefits of your thoughts, guidance, maturity, discipline and ethics will someday become our preoccupation. Your sense of time and respect has characterized my values throughout my career. I have often said that two persons influenced my sense of time: Archbishop Michael Francis and late President William R. Tolbert. You often said that respect for time is a human rights issue, it is about mutual respect for others, discipline, vision and efficiency. I carry this with me in all of the responsibilities to which I avail myself. It has helped me to deliver far beyond expectations. It is true. It is these moments that I cherish. I cherish this and I thank you very much.

Your endurance, simplicity, humility and deep sense of sacrifice will be a guide for a young generation tempted by greed, blind ambition and power..You maintained your vow and demonstrated that beyond those vows lie values deeply ingrained in your 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 moment I cherish. You frown 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.

As my hero and mentor look on, I hope I have kept our promise. If I have not, I still pray to God for the time to cover grounds noting that I too am imperfect.

I hope Liberia remember the moments when the little light shined in the darkness, when there was a lonely voice in the wilderness dominated by blood and inhumanity. I hope the Press remember when you 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 in collaboration with the Press Union of Liberia. 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 on 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, when 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.

The Press Union, the Media must help you to understand that the struggle for press freedom means more than writing. It means social responsibility. It means educating the public. It means taking a stand for justice. It means ensuring that we do not revert to war now and in the future. I hope the PUL can give meaning to your struggle. They too can pledge to undertake new ideals.

As my Hero looks on, Radio VERITAS; your child of pride is closed. The pain I now share is the moment I now condemn. I understand the difficulties of the Church but we commit that this will not die. This year, working with the Catholic Bishops Conference, Radio VERITAS will be back on air. It will be back!  As you observe in silence, you agonize over the closure of Radio VERITAS. My Hero looks on in amazement, in pains.

The pain will not last longer. You will soon listen to the 7:45 news on Radio VERITAS. I recall you insisting one night during one of my usual visits that you wanted to listen to the news. You knew it was time for news and wondered why the radio was off. My Hero, our Hero! I saw the disappointment in your eyes. It will be different soon.

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.

As my Hero looks on in silence. God said you must now observe, we the hypocrites, true believers, naysayers, pretenders and determine what you regret and what brings you joy in silence..Oh! The pain in silence.

We will republish all of the past pastoral letters for all to read and reflect on what you said and continue to say. They are so relevant today as they were prophetic at the time.

Radio VERITAS will be re-opened this year for you to listen and reflect on Liberia and its challenges

The JPC will be re-energized to respond to plight of the poor, marginalized and dispossessed reminding us of our stewardship. The pervasiveness of the rape issue must be addressed.

I am grateful to you for your fatherly guidance. I too now find the inspiration to continue to do Good and work for the poor. I am eternally grateful for your support to obtain my education and the formation I received from the Catholic Church and school.

As you celebrate your Natal day, I can only promise to continue to work on those issues that pain you and make you rejoice in silence. MY DEAR HERO HAPPY BIRHTDAY!