Called to Serve In Africa and Beyond! Leadership Experience! (PE nr. 1092 – 2018/06)

Put the Photo in the Toilet!

I still recall that when I was elected by the confreres of France to participate in the General Chapter as their Delegate, I thought to myself that there was no danger. I had “escaped” during the 1998 General Chapter and was now finishing my thesis and preparing to open the francophone Theology house in Abidjan and to teach in the newly created Institute Catholic Missionaries d’Abidjan. The candidates in the Fraternité Lavigerie (Toulouse) teased me by asking me where they should put my photo if I were elected Superior General, I said “you can put it in the toilet; I am sure that you will see me every day!” We all laughed about it and I went off to Rome. That was 2004. Little did I know that their prophecy would come true in 2010 but as the formation centre had moved in the meantime to Ivory Coast, I am sure they found a different place for my photo!

Serving as 1st Assistant General (2004-2010)

When I was elected Assistant General and then a couple of days later as First Assistant General, it came as a shock to me.  My experience in leadership had been mainly in formation and I was the second youngest of the General Council team. Knowing that it was not due to any special talent of mine in the animation of confreres but an invitation by the confreres that I be at the service of the whole Society in a leadership role, I accepted it in faith.

It is true that the Constitutions and Laws foresee a role for the 1st Assistant, but in reality as the General Council works as a team, I did not feel that I was more special than anybody else. I played my part in the team, following the different areas of Mission and Provinces that the Superior General, Fr. Gérard Chabanon, had given me and to my fellow Assistants (Frs. Raphaël Deillon, Georges Jacques and Jim Greene). I reported to him and to the Team and, together, we sought a way forward. I learnt that it was important to play my role in the team and to really be a team person rather than trying to show off and to take credit for one thing or another even if I had been convinced about it or had developed the idea and presented it.

I felt it was important to be as open as possible with the Superior General and my fellow Assistants during the discussions about different matters and at the end to tow the common line and pay the price for it. Some matters troubled me but when at the end of the day, I prayed the Rosary and put them in my Mother’s hands, I found the quiet of heart that I needed for sleep.

Richard Baawobr
Fr. Richard Kuuia Baawobr, then Superior General

Going around the communities and the formation centres, I realised that what was important was to be a symbol of the oneness of the Society and to facilitate the building of bridges through sharing information and insights. When I / we saw that something was good in one part of the Society and could benefit another part, I/ we shared it through conferences or articles.

It was during the years as Assistant General (2004-2010) that the awareness grew that the Mission of God that we have received as a Society belongs to all, irrespective of where we are. Consequently, we all have a duty to support it even and especially, when the members of the Sector in question do not have members capable of carrying it out. I felt that the appointment of confreres to Europe and the Americas, to India and the Philippines, was a good thing in order to participate in the mission in those places as Missionaries of Africa with a specific charism, to promote vocations and to foster interculturality in our communities. Such appointments were still seen as special and needing attention and were to be made after years of missionary experience in Africa, the real place of mission (as some thought of it and limited it geographically). This had to evolve in our missiological praxis.  The openings that were made here and there were, in my opinion, important and needed to become a policy for the appointment of stagiaires and young confreres. They were not at the detriment of the African Provinces but rather an awakening to our common responsibility and taking charge of it.

Serving as Superior General (2010-2016)

The biggest surprise came when I was elected Superior General during the 2010 General Chapter. I had, apparently miraculously, survived a Deep Vein Thrombosis in 2007 and I was now ready to pick up the challenge of going back to formation should the new Council want me to go to Abidjan.  This new invitation to continue serving as head of the Leadership Team meant that I had to shelve my personal plans! Not always easy but when done in faith it is rewarding. As the saying has it, God writes straight on crooked lines.

Representing the Society, animating and leading a Team, being the guardian of a common vision and mission as spelt out by the General Chapter and in fidelity to the vision of our Father, Cardinal Charles Lavigerie, these were some of the things that I had to do as Superior General for 6 years. The General Team that was given to me by the General Chapter in the persons of Frs. Jos Van Boxel, 1st Assistant, Emmanuel Ngona, Sergio Villaseñor and Peter Welsh was very helpful.  Given our different missionary experiences and talents, we could carry out the mandate given to us from the Chapter.

Fr. Richard Kuuia Baawobr, then Superior General, in his office.

It was, for me, a time of ripening of the conviction that the Mission Outside of Africa should not be just Mission in Europe or Mission in the Americas, or Mission in Asia, etc. The words “outside of Africa” would have to be dropped. My missiological reading and dialogue with other Missionary Societies made me realise the importance of de-territorialising the Mission and seeing the Mission beyond geographical terms. Even though the expression Africa and Beyond was not retained in the final formulation in the 2016 Chapter documents, it is reflected in the appointment policies that were accepted and that are currently in place. We have come from far and I am happy to have witnessed part of this journey as a member of the Society in a leadership role at the time it was taking shape.

Bishop Richard Kuuia Baawobr getting out of the mud like anybody else.

After having been exposed to the different Provinces, the different expressions of the same Mission as Society, I felt I had grown and could bring that to bear in a different area of service to the Society. Pope Francis decided otherwise. That is why, since February 2016, I accepted the new Mission to be a Servus Misericordiae Dei among the People of God in Wa.

Thanks to all for forming me and supporting me still in my learning to serve. May God bless you! Pray for me!

+ Richard Kuuia Baawobr, M.Afr.,
    Bishop of Wa (Ghana)

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