My own tribute in loving memory of Cardinal Richard Kuuia Baawobr, Missionary of Africa, Bishop of Wa (Ghana), 21 June 1959 – 27 November 2022.
I met Fr. Richard when I was a young boy in Kinshasa where I was born and grew up. He was sent to our Parish, Elimo-Santu (Holy Spirit), in Livulu, as vicar of the Parish Priest and we liked him very much. He was always smiling and encouraging.
As an altar boy, I served his masses many times and as a member of the group Brebis de Jésus, a youth group of the Parish, we benefited a lot from his wisdom and kindness. He left our Parish in 1991 to go for studies in Rome, at the Pontifical Biblical Institute where I am now teaching…
For many years we did not meet and from time to time we received through other White Fathers of the Parish news of him. Twenty years later, in 2011, when I was sent to Rome as a young Jesuit Priest to study at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, I had a chance to meet him again.
He was recently elected Superior General of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers), the first African to have such position in his congregation. Fr. Richard who could not recognized me, I was 35, the last time he saw me I was 14 years old, was moved and smiled when I introduced myself to him in a meeting with African students at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. Fr. Michael Mensah of the archdiocese of Accra who was our president had organized that meeting with him at the curia of the White Fathers in Rome.
After the short tea break during which I went to greet him, Fr. Richard told everyone the incredible story of one of us who was his altar boy in Livulu, asking me to come forward, laughing at his young altar boy who had become so big and bald, but happy to see him priest and studying the Bible as he did! He had a great sense of humor.
The same year, we met in Toulouse in France, in a meeting of the ACFEB (French Catholic Association of Exegetes), he was a member since he did his doctorate in Toulouse and taught there. We shared a lot during that congress in Toulouse, and he encouraged me to continue with Biblical studies…I did later my doctoral studies in Fribourg, Switzerland, where he did his novitiate as Missionary of Africa.
Last August, I was so excited to be in Rome for the consistory in which he was created Cardinal. But I could not come back in Rome on time for the consistory. Not seeing him during the celebration I followed online, I wondered what had happened…At the end of his homily, I heard Pope Francis asking to pray for him saying that our new cardinal had a sudden heart problem which did not allow him to be there and will probably have a surgery in one of the hospitals in Rome…
When I came back in September, I tried many times to visit him at the Santo Spirito hospital, but it was not possible. They asked me to be patient and pray for him, each time I will call to come to visit. They assured me they gave him my greetings and best wishes. When he was moved to the Gemelli hospital, they told me he was getting much better, but still no visit was permitted. They told me to wait until he will be discharged and at home to the White Fathers curia.
Last November 18th, he was discharged and on Wednesday, 23rd, I finally could visit him. I was so happy! We had a short and nice conversation. He was still weak and coughing a lot but told me that he was picking up and hopeful with the treatment he was having and physiotherapy he will regain enough strength to go back to Ghana for Christmas.
He added I do not want to stay in Rome during winter, I am not used to winter anymore. I gave him a book from a friend, and he thanked me for the visit and prayers. Always gentle, Fr. Richard ! He told me that he was reading the apostolic constitution Praedicate Evangelium promulgated by Pope Francis last March and that he will read the book I brought to him when he finishes with the apostolic constitution.
I promised to come back this week with my confrere Fr. Paul Béré SJ (from Burkina Faso) who teaches also at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and whom he knew very well. He asked me to greet our friends from Livulu Elimo Santu Parish and to thank all common friends who were praying for him.
I was then shocked to receive yesterday evening the message from the White Fathers Curia announcing his sudden death a few minutes after arriving at the Gemelli hospital…He felt unwell in the afternoon…May he rest in eternal Peace!
I will always remember his smile, goodness, and simplicity. He was such a good and encouraging person. I know many people he helped, and from yesterday I also received many witnesses on his goodness and generosity, from R.D. Congo, Israel, Tanzania, and Ghana. I am sure he will keep watching over his diocese of Wa, his confreres, and his many friends, and he will keep doing good to all of us from above! Many thanks for everything dear Fr. Richard, gone too soon!
Fr. Michel Segatagara Kamanzi, SJ
Rome, November 28, 2022