By Alva M. Wolokolie
The death of Most Rev. Emeritus Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis who departed this world on May 19, 2013, on Pentecost Sunday and laid to rest on Saturday, June 1, 2013, has been the most memorable moment for most Liberians and the management of the INQUIRER Newspaper.
He was buried at the front yard of the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Broad Street, uptown Monrovia.
Archbishop Francis was a fearless and upright Catholic prelate and a renowned champion of peace and justice in Liberia. His successor Most Rev. Lewis Jerome Zeigler, Archbishop of Monrovia described him during the Mass of Resurrection that Francis as a “Great Priest” who stood tall for social justice, peace and reconciliation in the country.
Bishop Francis’ demise was attributed to a stroke he encountered in 2004 rendering him speechless and immobile for nine years. The Catholic Church in Liberia celebrated his 77th birth anniversary on February 12, 2013.
Thousands of Liberians at the time turned out to witness how his remains were being escorted from the Samuel Stryker Funeral Parlor in Sinkor, Monrovia to the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Broad Street.
Delivering the Homily at the Mass of Resurrection, 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, had his eyes set on the Lord and because of that, he added that the Bishop gave his entire self in the best of humanity to serve the Lord.
Michael Francis spoke against the oppression of the people by those who were powerful ignoring social justice and corruption; he stood up firmly and spoke fearlessly about injustice and other vices that were inimical to mankind, even to the point where he had to give up his own life.
Branded as the “Moral Conscience of the Nation” by President Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf, the people of Liberia will undoubtedly not forget Bishop Francis, the man according to Archbishop Zeigler, who had served as “Ambassador of Peace and reconciliation” when everyone was suffering in the hands of evil men led by our own citizens.
During his funeral, 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’ death, the airwaves and pages of newspapers were loaded with tributes and reflections about the 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 had 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.
Michael Kpakala Francis was born on 12 February 1936 in Kakata District of Liberia. He was the Archbishop Emeritus of Monrovia in the Roman Catholic Church. Francis became a priest in 1963 and eventually became Archbishop of Monrovia in 1981, resigning for reasons of age in February 2011. He was the first priest and bishop to institute the Catholic Justice And Peace Council (J.P.C.) in Liberia.
This council was organized to defend human rights and civil liberty in the war ravished country, Liberia under the then President, Mr. Charles Gankay Taylor who is currently behind bars for charges of war crime he committed in Sierra Leone. In 1996 after the infamous April 6, 1996 fracas in Monrovia, Bishop Francis decided to close all Catholic schools because he felt Catholic institutions including the radio station (RADIO VERETAS) were always targeted and destroyed by fighters loyal to Mr. Charles Taylor. The Bishop later reconsidered his decision in 1997 after a public outcry from especially Catholic school students’ parents.