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|Tribute to His Grace Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis||| Print ||
|Written by Nohn Rebecca Kidau|
|Monday, 03 June 2013 23:16|
Archbishop Francis, Bishop Francis, Father Francis or His Grace Francis, recipient of The Robert F. Kennedy 1999 Human Rights Award, a true patriot, a fearless advocate for social justice and human rights, peace maker, role model, educator and a great man of God. The first time I met this great man, I felt the presence of an extraordinary being, then he told me “You are Joseph Belleh’s little sister” and I said yes, but how did you know? He smiled and said “your brother is a bright boy and you resemble him”. He then gave my older sister and I a ride to Ganta—a ride I will never forget because he virtually flew us from Sanniquellie to Ganta in his car.
The Archbishop showed his love for his country especially during the Liberian civil war. One of his most effective and memorable steps in the peace process was his meetings in the United States and New York from February 27 to March 7, 2003 and again from July 27 to 30, 2003. Those meetings led to the peace we now enjoy. Those two visits helped stimulate the desire of officials and policy makers in Washington to turn to war-crippling Liberia. The visits helped to spur calls from Members of Congress, the UN Secretary General, the press, as well as from some European and African leaders for intervention by the United States.
As the leader of a non-violent political group, the Movement for Democratic Change in Liberia (MDCL) we asked the Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) to join us to organize our third annual conference and they agreed. I then sent an email to the late Archbishop inviting him to be our keynote speaker and to be honored. Then JPC boss wrote me back to say that the Archbishop could not be a part of a political meeting. This was when I turned to another group of which I was a member (The Liberia Support Group within The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights). They added their voices to our invitation and it was accepted.
Prior to the conference and with the help of the Liberia Support Group, we set up meetings with key decision makers in Washington, DC, United Nations and other international organizations. Powerful people in Washington were, basically, falling to his feet. They all respected and honored him. In each of those meetings, Archbishop Francis insisted on the need for the U.S. to adopt a more proactive role towards the situation in Liberia. Archbishop Francis also met with then Secretary General of the United Nations Mr. Kofi Annan. There again Archbishop Francis made the case for a strong and unequivocal intervention of the U.S. to end the carnage that had reduced Africa’s oldest independent to a pariah.
The conference was held at the University of Maryland on March 1, 2003. At the conference, the Archbishop was the keynote speaker and we also honored him. In his speech, the Archbishop lamented the situation in Liberia and renewed his call for United States’ strong and unequivocal intervention.
The ICGL and the US Government were represented by then US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater, and this was the highlight of her statement: “The United States will not wait much longer. Regardless of who takes the first step or two, we will move forward, we will take action, and we hope you will join us. The cost may be great, but the cost of doing nothing will undoubtedly be even greater for the Government of Liberia, for the Government of the United States, and for the international community, and most importantly, for you the citizens of Liberia who are working ardently for, and richly deserve, democratic change in your beloved country”. Two months after this conference on June 2, 2003, the Accra Peace Talk, which lasted for three months, was called.
Archbishop Francis, I feel compelled to admit my cowardly behavior and to ask for your forgiveness. For ten years, you felt sick and I never once visited you, neither did I come to your funeral last weekend. This was because I didn’t have the heart to see you in a weak and helpless condition. You were my hero, our hero. I could not bear the emotion of seeing you lie still. I salute you!! A Michael Kpakala Francis Peace Center is carved, not only in my heart, but also in the hearts of all Liberians who truly appreciated your cherished contributions to our country. I say to you, thank you! Thank you on behalf of Nimba County for all that you did for us in Sanniquellie. Above all, I thank you for the peace we now enjoy.
We can all find comfort in John Dunne’s 72nd poem “Death be not proud”. He described death as a momentary sleep that ends and we wake eternally and death will be no more. At this point, death will die.
I know you have since woken eternally.
In Memory Of The Late Catholic Prelate, His Grace Archbishop Emeritus Michael Kpakala Francis: The Man, The Activist, The Leader, And The Legacy:
Prince Purpose Penie. Ottawa, Canada
To borrow from the words of scriptures, to everything there is a season, and a time for every matter or purpose under heaven: “A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted, A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to break down and a time to build up, A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, A time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, A time to get and a time to lose, a time to keep and a time to cast away, A time to rend and a time to sew, a time to keep silence and a time to speak, A time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace”.
In the first eight verses of the book of Ecclesiastes, the scripture writer captures in poetic fashion, all of life’s occurrences and human experiences that encompass the period of our short sojourn on the earth, beginning with birth and ending with death. With birth signifying the beginning of physical existence and death the end of physical existence. Interestingly, the writer cast a perfect picture of life in a collection of experiences that begins with planting and ironically ends with peace; with planting representing the beginning of the journey and peace representing the end of the journey, or rest.
The actual conversation begins in verse nine with a question that speaks to the heart of the issue of actions that define our life and legacy: WHAT PROFIT REMAINS FOR THE WORKER FROM HIS TOIL?
To reframe a line from the famous Julius Caesar tragedy, I come to say farewell to the Archbishop, not to praise him. This tribute embarks on defining the man I once served under as a mass servant (Altar Boy) in the Roman Catholic Church, to add my voice to the many voices that have spoken so well about his life and legacy:
Through my personal encounters with Michael Kpakala Francis, I was in the position to immediately recognize that the Archbishop’s ascendancy to the place of prominence and assuming crucial leadership responsibilities in the fight against social injustices was a timely respond to the fundamental issue of moving the Liberian people from the place of survival to the place of stability. Despite His privilege position as Head of the Roman Catholic Church in Liberia and the perks that came with the office, he could have chosen to be mute about the existing conditions in Liberia. However, being a man of conscience, he was never swayed by a false sense of accomplishment or satisfied with the temporary pleasures that his position accorded him. He had this sense of acute awareness of his environment and a larger than life attitude that constantly propelled him to always be willing to see beyond his horizon; far beyond the narrow confines of the pettiness and cowardice exemplified by other leaders who were also in similar positions of authority to address the denigrations and degradation that plagued those whom he personally shepherd and the nation of Liberia at large.
“Men are not born great, they become great. Greatness is not a force in a set stone, it is not jumped into or stumbled upon; it is prepared for, thus, men are not great by the nation of their origin or by the color of their skin but by the size of their hope” (Prince Purpose Penie)
In the words of iconic civil right activist and Nobel peace prize winner, the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “if a man has not found what he is willing to die for, he has not started living yet”.
As a lover of social justice, amongst the many names that stand up as icons, I have never seized to wonder how amidst severe conditions, oppressions of all types, discouragements, and disillusionments; an icon could emerge from the poverty stricken and scorching sun of Africa; the mountainous region of Tubmanburg, Bomi Hills in North- western Liberia.
The truth is, like the situations that necessitates the beckoning call to leadership, it is not difficult to surmise how, through his personal encounter with the plight of ordinary Liberians, Michael Kpakala Francis was dramatically transformed when he decided to rise up, take charge, take personal responsibility, and laid hold of the common and inseparable destiny that bound him to Humanity at large and Liberians in particular.
His methods and means, while to some at the time was unpopular, common, simple, ordinary and non-sophisticated; yet, the driving factors of his passion was due simply to the fact that he, like many other Liberian icons, got tired with the situation that kept generations of Liberians bound and down. He directed his passion to the fight against injustices of all types that plagued the Liberian people and launched an unwavering and relentless fight to see ordinary people liberated from the vicious circle of vices and the vestiges of oppression that engulfed the people of Liberia; Conditions that personally broke his heart and against which he constantly spoke vehemently. Notwithstanding, he accentuated the positive when speaking of a Liberia in whose future, the rights of everyone, rich or poor was respected and protected.
Caught in between and betwixt the battle of the paradoxical equation of good and evil, often armed with only his voice and humanitarian actions induced by plethora of thoughts, there became an awakening, a kind of social epiphany. Suddenly he became aware that popular actions are not always right and that greatness is often borne in pains and obscurity. Concomitant with that awareness was also the consciousness that only those who have toiled with the pains of life can effectively penned the hymns of comfort.
Armed with this defining realization, his convictions became the tool for moral judgments. An unusual passion was developed to see the people around him totally liberated. Later there upon, his passions were harnessed and dignified and turned into service to humanity. Mixed with a sense of duty and continuity, he would go on to build an indelible imprint of a legacy that would later be described in the words of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as “THE CONSCIENCE OF THE NATION”.A designation which will be judged by posterity, upheld by history, and above all, undeniable and irresistible by Liberians who actually knew the man.
MICHAEL KPAKALA FRANCIS THE LEADER AND ACTIVIST:
Unlike other leaders whose awakening and defining moment were characterized by a deep spiritual epiphany or extra-terrestrial occurrences, the moments that defined Michael Kpakala Francis’ leadership is like any ordinary moment. His leadership qualities were demanded by the circumstances of the day. He rose to the occasion to articulate the longings of an oppressed and destitute mass.
To juxtapose the experience of Another civil rights icon, Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis “had no deep spiritual epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments, that produced in him an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned, impoverished, and abused the Liberian people.
Like many other social justice advocates there must have been, no particular day on which Archbishop Francis must have said, from henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of the Liberian people. Instead, he simply found himself doing so, and could not do otherwise”.
As a fearless advocate for freedom and justice, Michael Kpakala Francis exemplified the kind of characteristics that Andre Brink describes as “a moral integrity” that radiates far beyond the shores of Liberia in particular to the world at large.
He will definitely be remembered as one of the most outstandingly admired figure in the fight against social injustices in the annals of the Liberian liberation struggle. Arguably, he would not have described himself as neither a hero nor a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become an ardent advocate because of extraordinary circumstances. He clearly understood that the flawed nature of the Liberian social structure was rapidly decaying and as such, the nature of a changing nation demanded not only a new direction but a redefinition of old concepts as well.
Cognizant of the existing gaps for relentless advocacy coupled with the leadership demands of the times in which he was living, he trained himself to be sensitive to envisage opportunities and take advantage of them. He had to demonstrate that the difference between failure and success was the use he made of what he saw as just and in the interest of liberation. He had to adopt such outstanding leadership strategies like being people centered and, progress oriented. He specialized in speaking truth to power and exposing, albeit at his own risk, his very life; challenging the tyrannical thugs in a conscionable effort to effect change, turn the tides of oppression and raise the standards of his people.
Somehow in the pursuit of his fight against injustice and his liberation dream, Michael Kpakala Francis understood that rhetorical emphasis on the pride and dignity of life was by itself, a ground-breaking way to evoke mass followings. Through the Combined ingenuities of the technical skills and institutional dynamism of the Justice and Peace commission, under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church, he embarked on a perpetual fight to convert the imaginations and aspirations of the ordinary Liberian into practical, achievable reality. Michael Kpakala Francis as a leader became an irresistible and formidable force to reckon with.
It would be absolutely difficult to pinpoint the moment when Michael Kpakala Francis became politicized, or the moment when he knew without a shadow of doubt that he would spend his life in the fight for social justice. Interestingly, the Socio-politico and economic winds blowing in Liberia at the time, meant to be a Liberian, equally means being exposed to political consciousness fused by class struggles that thrust one immediately into the fight for social justice from the moment of birth, whether one acknowledges it or not.
As an activist, He championed the cause that created an avenue for enhanced livelihood for the ordinary Liberian. He provided answers to the many questions that plagued the minds of the depressed masses, clarified his kinsmen doubts and provided a reasonable roadmap for their fight against the oppressive structures of governance and abject abuse of power in Liberia.
During the Archbishop’s lifetime he dedicated himself to the struggle of the Liberian people. He spoke against moral decadence that engulfed the Liberian society and also fought against the vices of tyranny and oppression to which the Liberian people were subjected. He cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all Liberians live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It was an ideal which he aspired to live for and by God’s grace to achieve. But however the needs must have been; it was an ideal for which he was also prepared to die.
Michael Kpakala Francis and many others are responsible for the transformation of the demand for freedom from oppression into a nationwide mass movement that mobilized every class of the Liberian society against the tyranny of the Minority ruling class. However, the freed nation he and others dreamed of, envisaged and fought for, is far from reality; different from the one that came into being, laden with crimes, poverty and disease; committed to an agenda of backwardness and stagnation, is obviously not the Liberia of his dreams.
Also in his career as an activist Archbishop Francis encountered many near-death moments, constantly featured on the hit list of his enemies, and by the wishes of the tyrants he opposed, destined to smolder and die in the huts and hovels of the oppressed and resigned to the fate where he would never to be remember in the conscience of the Liberian people.
Nohn Rebecca Kidau