By Alva M. Wolokolie
The Most Rev. Lewis Jerome Zeigler, Archbishop of Monrovia has described his brother and beloved friend Most Rev. Archbishop Emeritus the late Michael Kpakala Francis as a great priest who stood for social justice, peace and reconciliation in the country. Bishop Francis , a fearless and upright Catholic prelate and a renowned champion of peace and justice in Liberia was finally laid to rest on Saturday June 1, 2013, at the front yard of the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Broad Street, Monrovia.
Bishop Michael Kpakala Francis died on May 19, 2013, Pentecost Sunday, following a stroke in 2004 that took his speech and made him immobile for nine years. His remains was removed from the Samuel Stryker Funeral Parlors on Friday morning, May 31, 2013, and taken to the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Broad Street. His 77th birth anniversary was just observed last February 12, 2013 by the Catholic Church in Liberia.
Hundreds of mourners and sympathizers also turned out at the Cathedral for the vigil Mass on the same day of his remains removal in the evening to bid him their last respect.
Delivering his Homily at the Mass of Resurrection on Saturday, June 1, 2013, Most Rev. Lewis Zeigler, Archbishop of Monrovia told the congregation that much has been said and written about Bishop Francis’ life and achievements and as such, the Church is only trying to go over those things he did as a Christian.
Bishop Zeigler said Christ has been the hope and salvation for the Church because they as Catholics (Christians) have adored and praised him for redeeming the world by his Holy Cross.
The Catholic Prelate indicated that Bishop Francis wrote his own sermon, edited it and preached it. He described Bishop Francis as a man who was focused and had his eyes set on the Lord and because of that the Bishop gave up all of himself in the best of humanity to serve the Lord.
He recalled that in 2002, when Gbarnga was overrun by rebel forces, the grave of the late Bishop Sekey was broken into and they took away what they (the rebels) wanted. At that time, he remembered that the late Bishop Francis advised him to take courage and should not give up because of those places being looted and broken into.
“Bishop loves Christ; he has faith and love in him, and so he was ready to carry the cross of Christ for 9 years suffering, something that no one here would like to pass through. He was a great Priest and a man of faith. He believes what he read and preaches. He preached the Gospel value of justice, empowerment, simplicity, humanity, and love. He lived it in his daily life”. Archbishop Lewis Zeigler said at the Mass of Resurrection.
Bishop Zeigler added that the oppression of his people by those who were powerful ignoring social justices and corruption, Michael stood up loudly and spoke against them, even to the point of giving his own life. But when he spoke, Bishop Zeigler said most of us Liberians closed our eyes to what he was saying.
“For nine years, he lay in bed and could not sleep or walk; more over experiencing the gospel of silence, and pain. He neither complained nor frowned his face; he bore all the pains. When people visited him, he only gave them smiles because he knew that was what he had to offer. He kept the hope and faith till the last day of his life on earth,” Bishop Zeigler averred.
Branded as the “Moral Conscience of the Nation” by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, he was that conscience. Bishop Zeigler explained that for 9 years again the late Bishop Francis served as conscience of the nation. “He was baptized in the mysterious of Christ and nourished in the blood of Jesus Christ and went through the confirmation and then Priest, to Bishop,” he added.
The Bishop noted that the people of Liberia will not forget Bishop Francis, the man according to him who served as Ambassador of peace and reconciliation when people were suffering in the hands of evil men led by our own citizens. “He spoke well and loudly to us but did we listen?” Bishop Zeigler asked the congregation.
“He was an Ambassador of mercy, peace and unity. We trust as Christians that God’s mercy has given Michael a place in his kingdom which he had desired to go. I now say to you as he said to me in Gbarnga; don’t give up, take courage and keep the faith. My dear Michael, you have spoken to us clearly, you have served as conscience of the nation, what more would you do for us? I say to you Michael good-bye, go home, be happy and let your soul and the souls of the faithful rest in peace,” Bishop Zeigler concluded.
Also at the Mass of Resurrection, the official gazette from the government of Liberia was read by Executive Mansion Protocol Officer, former lawmaker of River Gee, Elijah Sieh.
The Inter-Religious Council of Liberia, the Muslim Council headed by Sheikh Kafumba Konneh, the Episcopal Church in Liberia headed by Bishop Jonathan Hart, Friends of Archbishop Francis, members of the Diplomatic Corps, the family, including top officials of government were in attendance to bid farewell to a “Fallen Hero” of the country.
Since Archbishop Francis’s death, the airwaves and pages of newspapers have been busy with tributes and reflections about his many good things he did while serving as Bishop of Liberia. Hundreds of Liberians on local talk shows in Monrovia said that his departure from the stage has left a vacuum in the Liberian society.
The late Bishop Francis feared no man. He courageously criticized the wrong-doings of former Presidents like Samuel K. Doe and Charles Taylor many times at the expense of his reputation and the social venture of the Catholic Church. He had a deep sense of humility and he was a disciplinarian, a teacher, an advocate and a charismatic preacher of the gospel.