FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

2 June 2013

Liberia: Monrovia Shuts Down for Kpakala - a Rich, Festive Send-Off for 'Poor, No Friend'

Photo: Amos Williams/UNMIL Radio
Body of Arch-Bishop Michael Francis being carried by Priests and church members

Thousands of Liberians stand in the court yard and outside the Sacred Heart Cathedral on Board Street defying the heavy down pull of rain; to pay their last respect to the man who was known as the conscience of the nation. Many here today saw Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis as the voice of the nation not only the Catholic Church for he was not afraid to speak truth to the power that be.

The crowd moved closer, the Knights of St. John and others tried to control them as the Archbishop emeritus is being lay to rest in the compound of the Cathedral. The bell finally rings. The coffin is placed in the vault. "From dust to dust," the priest says aloud. Many break down in tears. People outside as many inside the hall weep in tribute to the man many had come to know as "poor no friend".

This was supposed to be the celebration of a life that was well lived but the vacuum this national tragedy creates evidently makes the Catholics and non-Catholics alike cry their guts out, shaking their heads.

"The Archbishop died since he got sick in 2004. I am here because I feel sorry for this country. Who will be like him?" a man name Julius told this paper. Born on February 12, 1936, the Archbishop emeritus fell ill in 2004 rendering him a paralysis for the rest of his life until Pentecost Sunday, May 19 2013.

Celebration of the funeral started with the removal of the body from the Samuel Stryker Funeral Home on Friday May 31. The casket bearing his remains was carried by priests themselves; wearing whites robes they match with the funeral van from 24 Street all the way to the Cathedral on Broad Street.

Led by the Knights of St. John International, The Armed Forces of Liberia, Catholic schools and many other groups join the extra ordinary parade that brought out more than half of Monrovia to watch.

Ziegler Doesn't Mince Words

The largest funeral procession ever in recent memory comes to a halt before the cathedral, members of the AFL and folded the National Flag that covered the casket in a pyramid style and hands it over to the Churches leaders. Following the parade was a whole night Vigil at the Cathedral. On Saturday the Solemn Mass of resurrection was held with International Dignitaries, Bishops from other parts of the world, and high ranking government officials in attendance.

Chief celebrant of this high mass, Archbishop Lewis Zeigler during the homily said all that the Archbishop emeritus risked his life to speak against are still happening in Liberia. He pinpointed corruption as one of those things that is still happening.

"In the various pastoral activities that he performed, in the poverty that was around him, in the oppression of his people by those who were powerful, in the suffering that suffering and dying of those who had no power to fight, in social injustices and corruption which is practiced in this country by the very people who are supposed to sharing the goods to all men."

Holiday in the cards?

"He spoke out loudly. He spoke to you, you and you. Most of us closed our ears to what he was saying. And he was consistent in what he wanted us to do. Did we listen? No! Open the pages of your newspapers, stories of injustices, stories of corruption."

Sinoe County Senator Mabutu Nyenpan agrees with the Archbishop Zeigler. "He is correct; corruption is still around and that is something in this society that all of us need to fight against. Beyond corruption there are a lot of other social injustices that he spoke about that still exist. He stood up for all of us and as a people his memory should not be allowed to dissipate." Nyenpan said he will reintroduce a bill seeking to make the birthday of Archbishop emeritus Francis a holiday in Liberia.

In his delivery of the panegyric Vice President Joseph Nyuma Boakai said the Archbishop will be remembered by all Liberians.

"The Most Reverend Michael Kpakala Francis, who will continue to dwell in the soul of Liberia, and in the minds of all Liberians--now and yet unborn--deserves a heroic send-off. And we assemble here to give him just that."

Continued Boaka: "Archbishop Francis was illustrious in life, and he will transcend the cold critical glare of history to become a larger-than-life figure - even in death. A fine gentleman, he dedicated his life, time, and love to his country and fellow compatriots. He was a true patriot and nationalist who will continue to be missed not only for his magnificent stewardship of the Church, but also because he carried the cause of the less fortunate on his broad shoulders."

The tributes to Archbishop Emeritus Frances seem never to end as various groups and individuals gave their respects to the great son of the land in many different ways some broke down on the stage crying while orders just talked extemporaneously.

In its tribute Press Union of Liberia said the loss of the Archbishop emeritus is the loss of the champion in the fight against social justice.

Spoke 'Truth to Power'

"We are sad because of the loss of a champion in the fight for social justice, democracy and the rule of law. Our relief is that the Lord could end his anguish - anguish that saw him suddenly turned from being 'a voice of the voiceless to a voiceless'. He painfully watched events in our country for ten years without a say. This was painful indeed. He was consistent in speaking truth to power - an embodiment of the fight against, injustices, waste and abuse."

"For the Student Unification Party (SUP) the fight against social injustice continues. "Rest Comrade Archbishop. You are resting though, but you are still fighting. SUP remains committed to your true cause for the liberation of the masses and the fight against imperial presidency and executive excesses. For us, you rest that we may keep up the struggle in faith, action and death, if the need be."

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