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Clerics across Africa say they are saddened by the demise of one of their own, Cardinal Richard Kuuia Baawobr, who had been the bishop of Wa in Ghana.
The Ghanaian cleric, who was elevated to the rank of cardinal by Pope Francis on August 27, died Sunday in Rome’s Gemelli hospital at the age of 63.
He had been hospitalized with heart problems and couldn’t take part in the Vatican event at which he was elevated to the College of Cardinals.
His demise has left an African Church shocked, saddened and distraught, but also comforted by the hope of the resurrection.
In a November 27 condolence statement sent to Crux, the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of Eastern Africa, AMECEA, expressed “shock and sadness” at the passing of the President of SECAM, meaning the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar.
“His wide missionary and administrative experience as Superior General of the widely celebrated Missionaries of Africa who are first evangelizers of many countries in AMECEA blended so well with his humility and hardworking spirit,” the statement said. “These are the missionary ingredients which SECAM very much needs especially as we continue with the synodal journey at continental level.”
The condolence message said that “the entire family of God under SECAM [is] mourning the loss that this death has brought on us all.”
“At this time when darkness has engulfed our hearts and minds, it is not easy for the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of Ghana, the Diocese of WA, the Missionaries of Africa, the Secretariat of SECAM and indeed the entire Catholic family to understand God’s will,” it read.
In a similar vein, the First Vice-President of SECAM, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo of the Democratic Republic of Congo, talked about the “sorrow and pain” he was feeling after the loss of the cardinal, but also about “the hope of the resurrection.”
“After almost two months of hospitalization in the Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome, Cardinal Richard was transferred on Saturday, 15th October, 2022, to the Agostino Gemelli University Hospital/ Policlinic, where he was discharged on Friday, 18th November, 2022.”
“He stayed at the Generalate of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers), his religious family in Rome, in order to rest and regain his strength. Surprisingly, his health has deteriorated and he was taken back to the hospital where he was called home to God,” Ambongo said.
The late Cardinal was born in 1959 in Ghana. He held positions of responsibility in the Church, serving as the first African Superior General of the Missionaries of Africa (“White Fathers”). In 2016, he was appointed Bishop of Wa in Ghana.
On August 27, 2022, he was created the third Ghanaian-born Cardinal. On 30th July, 2022, he was elected President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).
Ambongo said the many posts of responsibility Baawobr held in the church enabled Christians to experience “his fraternal and friendship style of living and working.”
“His Eminence was truly a broadminded pastor, a person with great empathy, and above all, a man of God.”
He said the Church in Africa and Madagascar as well as the Universal Church “have lost a great and devout churchman, a selfless servant and a good Shepherd.”
“On behalf of the members of the Church, Family of God in Africa and the Islands, we express our heartfelt condolences to his biological family, to the diocese of Wa, to the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference and to his religious family,” Ambongo said.
Nigerian Bishop of Oyo Diocese, Emmanuel Adetoyese Badejo, who is also President of the Pan-African Episcopal Committee for Social Communications (CEPACS) and a member of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, said Baawobr “injected a new dynamism” to the African Church.
“Cardinal Richard Kuuia Baawobr was a symbol of great hope to the Church in Africa… When His Eminence was elected by the Bishops of SECAM at the Assembly in Accra, Ghana, his joy at the acceptance injected a new dynamism into the life of the Church in Africa. Being an ever-smiling prelate, he exuded confidence and positivity. Everybody was encouraged that something good was going to begin to happen at a new level in Africa,” Badejo said.
Badejo told Vatican News that even as death beckoned on the Cardinal, his instinct to serve continued to drive him.
“I had the good fortune and privilege of seeing Cardinal Richard a few days before he actually passed away. He was staying at the Missionaries of Africa House in Rome. Though he was looking frail, his mood was very high. I was touched by his positive, optimistic mien, and he told me that he was quite eager to come back to work so that the assignments we had at hand would be completed. I am sure that he will be praying for us from heaven above.”
“SECAM will have to forge ahead without its beloved new President. The work must go on with him on the other side. I know his smile and optimism will stay with us for a long time and keep SECAM going,” the Nigerian prelate said.
Pope Francis on Tuesday joined the African clergy in bidding farewell to the departed priest.
“I willingly join the faithful in praying that our merciful Father may grant to this wise and gentle pastor the reward of his labors and welcome him into the light and peace of heaven,” Francis said in a telegram addressed to the Cardinal’s family, to the Missionaries of Africa of which he was part, to the clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese of Wa.
The late cardinal was born in 1959, joined the Society of Missionaries of Africa in 1981, took the missionary oath on December 5, 1986, at St Edward’s College in London, and was ordained a priest in Ghana on July 18, 1987.