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Remembering Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis (Tribute)

By D. Garkpe Gedepoh      Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis of Liberia

The news of Archbishop Francis’s death really hit home hard. I had the privilege of growing up around Bishop Francis as a child in Cathedral School.

I was an altar boy at the Sacred Heart Cathedral for more than seven years, when he was consecrated bishop of the then Diocese of Monrovia, and later as the first archbishop of the newly established Archdiocese of Monrovia. I also served with him on the altar as he ordained young Liberian priests including Monsignor Gabriel Jubwe.

Those days, I was one of the altar boys who were required to leave class early to prepare the sanctuary for mass, or leave at the last period on school days to prepare for the sanctuary for mass or for a funeral mass.

Archbishop Francis would use the pulpit to speak out on behalf of his flocks. And there were times when he was jovial about the military regime of Sergeant Doe. When Sergeant Doe, who had not obtained a high school diploma received an honorary
doctorate degree in South Korea, bishop made a joke of it.

The next day bishop spoke to me and said, “Hello Doctor”! I said,  “Bishop you called me Doctor?” He said, “Yes, because everybody is a doctor in Liberia. ”And then he laughed about it.

I remember once I convinced bishop to hire Weade Kobbah-Wreh as manager of radio ELCM. And for some reasons, as young as I was, bishop was willing to sit down and not only listen to me but take my recommendations.

Another time, he was contemplating making ELCM a commercial Catholic radio, and I arranged a meeting between Wilmot Stubblefield and bishop. I took Stubblefield to meet the Archbishop at his Ashmun Street office where we discussed bishop’s plan for a commercial Catholic station, because donor help was not regular.

Also, in the mid 1990s after learning about the destruction of ELCM, I met his Grace about the station and wanted to know what had happened. He told me that John T. Richardson had brought some rebels to Sacred Heart Parish on Ashmun Street, and ordered them to set the Catholic radio station ablaze. Apparently, Archbishop Francis was unhappy over the way things had turned out with Taylor’s war in Liberia; though earlier he was displeased with Sergeant Doe.

After completing broadcast journalism training at ELCM FM 97 (Catholic radio), we (the interns) were assigned to different departments within the station. And during my internship, I was occasionally assigned to travel locally with Archbishop Francis to cover events he attended.

One day, we attended a program in Brewerville, and he showed me some acres of land and told me that the church had plans to build a larger station which he intended to call “Voice of Africa.” He said the station broadcast would reach listeners throughout Africa. The plan would also include an FM station, short wave and a television station.

Now, some Catholics were dissatisfied over the way Bishop Francis made some decisions. Once the Archbishop was not please with the Irish missionaries who operated Carroll High in Nimba County, when he was a parish priest at St. Mary’s in Sanniquellie. So when he became bishop, he shut it down.

When Taylor rebels burned down Radio ELCM, he re-opened the station, kept the same frequency and changed the name to Radio Veritas. Another situation was the closing down of Saint Patrick’s High School, because some people believe that bishop was also dissatisfied with some of the graduates becoming warlords and rebels, like Alhaji Kromah and Morris Dukuly. And others don’t know why the bishop changed Arthur Barclay Technical Institute to Don Bosco Polytechnic.

Well, maybe bishop had a vision for the Catholic Church in Liberia but never had the finances to build new infrastructure, so he decided to take structures like Saint Patrick’s High School and Arthur Barclay and changed them to something else. He got help from abroad and aligned some of his institutions to international Catholic foundations in order to receive
assistance. Be it as it may, we cannot speculate his intentions at this time, especially when he’s unable to clarify ones’ conceptions or misconceptions.

He’s gone… His time has expired… Nevertheless, he created some vibrant Catholic institutions in Liberia, and we need to be grateful for his contributions.

But some say the big question is: “Had Archbishop Francis being able to speak during these seven years of Ellen’s rule, would he have expressed his dissatisfaction with her administration regarding corruption”?

Others say the Archbishop had close ties to Madame Sirleaf. Regardless of the so-called closeness with Ellen, His Grace would have hammered down on the present  administration. He would have had no choice but to do the right thing. You think?

Archbishop Francis may have been controversial, but had no presidential ambitions; unlike the Haitian Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide. For the most part, he relished his role as a spiritual leader. He was mostly concerned about expanding educational institutions in Liberia.

I will deeply miss him for his laughs and authentically Liberian jokes. He was a simple man of God who most times wore flip flops in his office. On many occasions at ELCM, Rufina Darpoh and I would joke him about his name, “Kpakala.” She would say, “Bishop’s name sounds like something fell down and it went like, Kpakala.” We would both laugh so hard, and upon seeing bishop approaching the station, I would say, “Here he comes.” Then Rufina would say, “Who”? And I would say, “Kpakala.” And then we would laugh again.

We enjoyed being around bishop, and we’re going to miss him. You will be missed Bishop, you will be missed.

Rest in peace Your Grace, rest in peace. You have done well for Liberia, and may the light perpetual shine on you. God be with you until we meet again.

Rest in peace my Archbishop.

Rest in peace…

D. Garkpe Gedepoh is the publisher and CEO of AfricanPanorama

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