The Bishop of Wa and upcoming cardinal Bishop Richard Kuuia Baawobr has been chosen to lead the African Bishops Conference.
The 63-year-old bishop from Ghana, who will go to Rome on August 27 to receive a red hat, has stated that he views his new role as a cardinal as “an invitation to serve.”
In northwest Ghana, the Diocese of Wa has been governed by Baawobr since 2016.
In a nation where mental illness is still heavily stigmatized, he is well-known locally for his charitable work and care for people with mental disabilities.
His diocesan street ministry, which unites parish volunteers and medical professionals to provide care and assistance to people with mental disabilities who have been abandoned by their families, was started six years ago.
“I always picture Zebedee’s two sons fighting for seats, one on the left and one on the right. Jesus then tells them that their greatness is in service and that he has come to serve, according to Baawobr, who spoke in an interview with CNA’s Nairobi-based news partner ACI Africa.
Therefore, I believe that each of us has a calling to serve, regardless of where we are, and that is what will make us great, not our position.
The African bishops’ plenary assembly concluded on July 30 in Accra, Ghana, with Baawobr being chosen as the organization’s new president. SECAM is an acronym for the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar.
Baawobr, who later became the Bishop of Wa, was the first African to hold the position of superior general of the Missionaries of Africa, also known as the “White Fathers” due to their recognisable white cassocks.
He gained ministry experience in various parts of Africa thanks to his work as a Missionary of Africa. Baawobr worked in a parish in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after receiving his ordination as a priest in 1987.
After earning a doctorate in Biblical Theology and a licence in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, he later relocated to Kahangala, Tanzania to assume the position of formator for the order.
Baawobr also spent some time in France, where he attended Le Chatelard in Lyon to study Ignatian spirituality and served as the formation house’s director in Toulouse for five years.
He was appointed vice grand chancellor of the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies while serving as the superior general of the White Fathers from 2010 to 2016.
Later, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity appointed him as a member and consultant.
Baawobr, who was raised in the Wa diocese and was born in Tom-Zendagangn, attended a village school as well as the St. Francis Xavier Minor Seminary before enrolling in the diocesan seminary in 1979 at the age of 20.
After deciding to join the Missionaries of Africa, he studied in Fribourg, Switzerland for his novitiate before completing his theological studies at the Missionary Institute London.
In 1986, he made his proclamation to join the society of apostolic life.
In a consistory on August 27 in Rome, Baawobr and 20 other people will be made cardinals.
As he described the enthusiasm for the appointment in his home diocese, Baawobr joked, “At least now people are forced to look up what is Wa and they find it on the map.
Prior to receiving a call from the nuncio, he claimed that he did not initially think that Pope Francis had designated him a cardinal.
“I was surprised by the news. It totally surprised me. My appointment as a cardinal was announced to me shortly after Mass when someone informed me that it had been posted on social media.
I wasn’t sure until I… When I turned on my phone, I verified that it was real.
As a result of the surprise, Baawobr said, “I came to accept it as a call to serve.” As a priest, serving God and serving his people is my first calling.
As one of the two new cardinals from Africa, along with Bishop Peter Ebere Okpaleke of Ekwulobia, Baawobr will travel to Rome with a team from the Diocese of Wa for the August consistory.
The difficulty in obtaining visas for everyone who wanted to accompany him to Rome, he acknowledged, was a problem. The Italian embassy, he claimed, had repeatedly asked him “to lower the [guest] list.”
With pilgrimages to basilicas in Rome and “maybe” a pilgrimage to Assisi, Baawobr said he hopes to make the trip “an occasion to pray and to grow in the faith” for the Ghana delegation. He added this includes praying for peace for the group, our families, and the country while visiting Assisi.
“It is clear as day that we are not acting alone in this operation. And the Holy Father invites us to contribute and work with him,” he stated.
“I believe that from there I also derive the lesson that wherever we are, if others need our assistance in achieving a certain objective, we should extend it with joy, humility, and simplicity,” the author said.