Archbishop Michael Francis: Conscience of Liberian Society – After Three Years Still Irreplaceable?
Rt. Rev. Michael Kpakala Francis (Throwback) Audio
Three years ago today, May 19, 2013, Liberia was gripped with a dark cloud of sorrow with tears dripping down the cheeks of hundreds of Liberians who participated in the burial ceremony of a religious Leader who was referred to as the “Conscience” of the Liberian Society.
People from all corners in and around Monrovia and its environs as well as other parts of the country, trooped to the main streets of Monrovia to get at least a glimpse as the Samuel A. Striker Funeral Parlor hearse drove with his coffin through a solemn Catholic procession from the Monrovia suburb of Sinkor to the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Broad Street.
As if the whole country and its people got to the realization that a vacuum had been created by the passing and burial of this great and illustrious Son of the Soil.
This was a Man who even though some people had variance with him from personal perspectives, was widely acclaimed as a hero who fearlessly advocated for social justice in Liberia.
He was considered by many Liberians as the embodiment of the fight for human rights, good governance, and democracy.
In one of his final speeches, the well-respected Catholic prelate spoke to Liberians in the United States in 2003 on a number of issues, including injustice in Liberia. He said there can never be peace in Liberia without justice.
In his 2003 speech which he titled “A Liberia with Justice, Peace and Reconciliation,” Archbishop Francis said there can be no peace without justice. He preached justice in almost all of his sermons.
In this tribute article to this great Leader who did not only give a pleasant face to Catholicism, but a spiritual one in Liberia, we will recount his life and the impact he made on Society, Liberians (not only Catholics) and all those who interacted with him one way or the other.
During his spiritual leadership the Catholic Church in Liberia was seen and considered a “Trumpet” in speaking against the ills of Society and advocating for the downtrodden in Liberia.
For some of us, he touched our lives spiritually and educationally during our childhood and adolescent growth. Our interactions with him greatly helped to groom us into who we are today. He instilled some discipline regarding principles and spirituality that has not only transformed our lives, but has almost given us an impeccable character in our mortality.
In his spirituality, the Rt. Rev. Michael Kpakala Francis always almost did not start a prayer or Eucharistic Celebration without singing this prayer song by St. Francis of Assisi: Make me a channel of your peace.
As an aspirant to the Catholic Priesthood in the early 80’s we remembered our role as Mass Altar Servers and joining him sing this song many times at the St. Dominic Catholic Church in Liberia’s western Tubmanburg, Bomi County.
Despite his soft-spoken tone, the late Catholic Archbishop always tried to sing a baritone using all his body gestures and the congregation would join him. During the singing of this song we saw the brilliance of his face clouded with a deep sense of happiness and joy.
He had a good appetite for food, especially African Liberian dishes. Palm butter was one of his favourite dishes. We quite remembered one Sunday Mass he celebrated at St. Dominic Parish and could not wait for lunch especially when he knew palm butter was on the menu. During lunch, he would eat heartily and drink enough water.
The Stella Maris Polytechnic (SMP) a private institution of higher learning in Monrovia founded in 1988 is owned and operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Monrovia. The school is recognized by Liberia’s National Commission on Higher Education as an approved degree granting school of higher learning, and is a member of the Association of African Universities.
This great institution has a portrait of the late Archbishop Emeritus as a mark of gratitude for the immeasurable effort he made in its establishment. He was a teacher and an educator, so he always took pleasure in the betterment and growth of educational plans and activities.
This was his among his favorite prayer songs that was always on his lips, even during his quiet times.
Prayer of St. Francis
Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.
Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness only light,
And where there’s sadness ever joy.
Oh Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console.
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
In giving of ourselves that we receive,
And in dying that we’re born to eternal life.
There was never a day or an event that he served as chief celebrant without beginning with this prayer in a song fashion. He really popularized this prayer song in Liberia especially in the Catholic Church.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Kpakala Francis was born on February 12, 1936 in Kpakala Town, Bomi County, Liberia thirty miles north of Monrovia and died May 19 2013. He died at 77. He had been ill since 2004 after suffering a stroke.
Reverend Peter Rogers SMA baptized him in Saint Christopher’s Church; Kakata in 1938.He was the Archbishop Emeritus of the Catholic Archdiocese of Monrovia.
He 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 (JPC) in Liberia. This council was organized to defend human rights and civil liberty in Liberia.
In 1996 after the infamous April 6, fracas in Monrovia, the bishop decided to close all catholic school because he felt catholic institutions including the radio station (RADIO VERETAS) were always targeted and destroyed by fighters loyal to Mr. Charles Taylor former President of Liberia. The bishop later reconsidered his decision in 1997 after a public outcry from especially catholic school students’ parents.
The late Catholic Archbishop Emeritus Michael Francis was a recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 1999, given each year to an individual whose courageous activism is at the heart of the human rights movement and in the spirit of Robert F. Kennedy’s vision and legacy.
As we conclude this special tribute to a great man, we now share with you the memories that still live on the minds of many other Liberians. But what is quite still uncertain in our opinion is his replacement. Will Liberia ever have a fearless advocate for social justice? A Liberian who will be bold and fearless always ensuring that justice is the modus operandi in every spheres of the Liberian Society? Will we ever have another “Conscience” of Society?
Philip Wesseh, Managing Editor of the Inquirer Newspaper: “A Man of peace and someone who was concern about the welfare of people and the equitable distribution of Liberia’s resources.”
Sondah Geepea Wilson Executive Director of the Special Emergency Activity to Restore Children’s Hope (SEARCH):“He is still, even up till today, a household name at the St. Mary’s Parish in Sanniquelle, Nimba County where he served as a Parish Priest.
The late Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis, affectionately known by us in Sanniquellie as Father Francis, was an advocate, change maker, astute humanitarian and peacemaker… he was a gentle angel that chased away every grey cloud, bringing love, comfort and peace. We miss him, but his memory remains.”
Moses Zangar UNDP Communications Officer in Zambia: “He was bold, fearless and one who critiqued and instigated the direction of our society in a positive way. His memories live on.”
Andrew Nimely Administrative Assistant to Liberia’s Chief Justice His Honor Cllr. Francis Korkpor: “He touched my life personally. He thought me humility, always telling me to shun arrogance in whatever I did. He helped me greatly in building my leadership skills. The late Archbishop always told me to push for the extra. His famous saying was Once there is a will, there will always be a way.
Rodney Sieh, Managing Editor of the FrontPage Africa Newspaper: Archbishop Francis was one of the last breed of vocal clergymen in Liberia. His death left a mark that many Liberians, particularly those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder and lagging behind the poverty line are struggling wish was still around. Today there is a huge void of reason and conscience.
Ray Funk, Contributing Writer,