President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has held discussions with a high-level delegation of the Catholic Bishops of the Regional Episcopal Conference of West Africa (RECOWA- CERAO).
The delegation comprised His Grace, Archbishop Ignatius Kiagama, President of RECOWA, The Most Rev. Jose Na Bissign, 1st Vice President of RECOWA, Bishop of Guinea Bissua; Most Rev. Alexis Touably, 2nd Vice President, Bishop of Agboville, Cote d’Ivoire; Archbishop Lewis Zeigler, Archbishop of Monrovia, Rev. Andrew Karnley, Bishop of Cape Palmas, The Most Rev. Anthony Bowah; Bishop of Gbarnga, President of CABICOL; The Very Rev. Fr. Joseph Aka, Secretary General of RECOWA, Very Rev. Dennis Nimene, Secretary of CABICOL and Mr. Frimin Adjahoussou, Legislative Officer of RECOWA, among others.
According to an Executive Mansion release, President Sirleaf, who is also Chairperson of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS, received the Bishops at her office in Monrovia on Tuesday, April 4.
In remarks, His Grace, Archbishop Kiagama thanked President Sirleaf for the warm reception accorded them since their arrival in Liberia and her support to the African Faith Leaders Initiative on Post-2015 Development Agenda, which was spearheaded by the continental body, the symposium of Episcopal Conference of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) toward the successful negotiation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
He applauded the ECOWAS Vision 2020, which aims to move from an “ECOWAS of States to an ECOWAS of Peoples” because, according to him, this is a clear strategic vision from the political leaders.
The Catholic Bishop called for more collaborative and holistic regional development approaches and integrated programs, adding, “We are happy about the positive and remarkable achievements in our region over the past decades.”
Archbishop Bishop Kiagama informed President Sirleaf that RECOWA was concerned about political transition and instability, danger of youth unemployment, religious intolerance, extremism and menace in the region.
He pointed out that political transitions of power in some countries are characterized by the disregard for the rule of law, weak institutions, shrinking space for political participation by all, frequent human rights violations and torture.
He noted that although 60 percent of the population is made of the youth, majority of them are unemployed, thereby exposing them to trafficking, drug abuse, violence and forced migration, among others.
Bishop Kiagama also noted that the desire of religious extremist groups to forcefully “Islamize” countries in the region poses a serious threat to the rights of every citizen to freely choose and practice the religion of his or her choice.
He informed President Sirleaf that RECOWA stands ready to partner with ECOWAS in contributing to the rapid development of the region.
His remarks were contained in a Special Message presented to President Sirleaf.
In response, President Sirleaf welcomed the visit of the Bishops and described it as a “Strong Partnership” between the Church and the government.
She said because of this strong partnership with the church, Liberia has benefited from support in the health and educational sectors for which the government is grateful to the church.
The Liberian leader said she was delighted by the suggestions made by the Bishops and informed them that at the ECOWAS Summit expected to take place in Liberia this year, she will report to the Heads of State and Government the Catholic Bishops’ concerns and suggestions for further deliberations.
President Sirleaf, among other things, recounted the role played by the late Archbishop Michael Kpakala Francis and his contributions not only to Liberia but the region as well in order to get Liberia to where it is now.
The Liberian leader thanked the Catholic Bishops for promoting and preaching reconciliation and peace in the region.
She then commended the Bishops for the visit and their commitment to peace and hoped that their stay in Liberia will be rewarding and fruitful.
She also expressed ECOWAS’ commitment to peace and conflict resolution to all its peoples and governments.