The man considered by many Liberians as the embodiment of the fight for human rights, good governance, and democracy, has died.
Roman Catholic Archbishop Michael Francis, 77, died early Sunday in Monrovia.
He had been ill since 2004 after suffering a stroke.
In one of his final speeches, Francis 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,” Francis said there can be no peace without justice.
“Liberia, the land of the free, is a land of pains, a land of woes, and a land of injustice. We must create the environment in which the respect for the fundamental rights of our people is respected; all Liberians are treated equally, and the means whereby we can live decent lives must be available. Unless, and only unless, we as a people and nation come to grips with the unjust system we have in Liberia, ours will be a land of chaos, fratricidal contentions and desert of woes," he said.
Francis prefaced his speech by describing the principles which he said have guided him in both his pastoral and social services to Liberians.
“First, I believe every human being is sacred in God’s sight. Violence as a means of obtaining objectives is immoral and against God’s commandments; that true peace will only be achieved in Liberia if we respect the fundamental rights of our people; that truth will always prevail, and fundamental to Christianity is injustice.” he said.
On Liberia’s nearly 14-year civil war, Francis criticized warlords for recruiting children into becoming fighters and killers.
“All the warring factions are guilty of this, and their leaders and those connected with this dehumanizing act have to answer to God one day for what is happening to our children. Unfortunately, militias engaged in the present war in Liberia on both sides of the divide are forcing our children to be combatants, to be destroyers, to be killers. This is violence and it must stop; they must stop recruiting and using our children,” he said.
He also criticized what he called “the culture of lies and deception” in Liberia which he said had been detrimental to peace reconciliation.
“Lying and disseminating false stories are consciously used to induce prejudices and, above all, to serve one’s selfish interest. [Due to] the absence of adequate and accurate news gathering and publication by the media, the public is a very easy target for manipulation,” he said.
Francis also criticized what he called “the culture of silence” in Liberia in the wake of corruption and sycophancy.
“People know what is happening, but they keep silent. They experience daily the injustices meted out by some officials of government, but they keep silent. They know that people in the private sector aid and abet officials in the public sector to do evil, but they say nothing. We do not stand up for the rights of our people. It is our business and our concern when evil is being perpetrated in our society, in our country. All of us have co-responsibility for the wholesome welfare of Liberia,” he said.
He said, in a society where the priority is the material wellbeing of a few individuals, the people should expect discord, discontentment, and tension.
“We want a country in which justice reigns, not injustice; we want a country in which people are treated as human beings and not as slaves; we want a country where the basic rights of all of us are respected and not downtrodden; we want a country in which every individual is considered equal to the other and not a country where a few are considered superior; we want a country in which the people can choose freely who they want as leaders and not a country in which a leadership is imposed through intimidation, bribery, imprisonment, lies, etc.,” he said.
The Most Reverend Lewis Zeigler, Archbishop of Monrovia, who succeeded Francis, said the late archbishop stood for justice because he strongly believed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“First, my reaction is that of sadness, and then coupled with that, I would like to give thanks to God for his many blessings. Nine years have gone by and he has been suffering. While I grieve, I also thank God that He has called him to go home and rest. He was a firm believer in the Gospel of Christ and, because of his faith, he stood for justice,” Zeigler said.
Edmund Bargblor of Providence, Rhode Island, a student in Nimba County, Liberia, where Francis was a parish priest, called on all churches in Liberia to fill the vacuum left by the death of Francis.
“Are there individuals in Liberia that will fill that vacuum? Yes. But they, too, have to define their role, especially the church. Bishop Francis has left us, but he left a legacy and I would like for the church of Liberia, the various churches, the Christian churches, even the Islamic mosques so that they, too, can occupy that vacuum to continue to articulate on behalf of the Liberian people with respect to social justice,” Barbgblor said.