[Update:] On November 29, the Holy See Press Office shared a telegram by Pope Francis where he expressed his “heartfelt condolences” to Cardinal Baawobr’s family, the Missionaries of Africa and the faithful of the Diocese of Wa. The Pontiff remembered “with gratitude” the Cardinal’s “faithful witness to the Gospel marked by generous service to the Church in Ghana, especially to those most in need.” He also prayed that God will “grant to this wise and gentle pastor the reward of his labors.”
Ghanaian Cardinal Richard Kuuia Baawobr, who suffered a heart problem last August upon arriving to Rome for the consistory where he was to be elevated into the College of Cardinals, died on November 27, 2022, at the age of 63, Vatican News reported.
The bishop of Wa, Ghana, had just recently taken up residence at the White Fathers’ Generalate in Rome on November 18; he went to continue his recovery there from the heart surgery after his long period of hospitalization.
“With sadness and pain we hereby inform you of the return to the heavenly Father of Cardinal Richard Baawobr which occurred today, Sunday, 27 November 2022,” wrote Father André-Léon Simonart, Secretary General of the Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers), in a statement released yesterday evening.
“Our confrere was taken by ambulance from the Generalate to the Gemelli Hospital at 5.45pm and we received the sad news at 6.25pm. May Richard rest in the peace of his Lord whom he so generously served. On behalf of the bereaved Society, our prayer and our thoughts go also to his family, to his diocese, his fellow bishops, to all his friends and acquaintances,” Father Simonart said.
The Ghanaian Cardinal, who was Superior General of the White Fathers from 2010 to 2016, became one of the most important figures of the Catholic Church in Africa during the summer of 2022. He became both a Cardinal, while leading a diocese that had never had a cardinal at its head, and the President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM). Physically absent from the August 27 consistory because of his hospitalization, he became a Cardinal by right from the moment his name was pronounced by Pope Francis during the ceremony.
A missionary journey between Africa and Europe
Born in Ghana on June 21, 1959, Cardinal Baawobr joined the White Fathers in 1981 and was ordained in London in 1987. From 1991 to 1996 he studied exegesis at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome and then Ignatian spirituality at the Jesuit Spiritual Center of Le Châtelard in France.
From 1999 to 2004 he became the Director of the Formation House of the White Fathers in Toulouse and then the first assistant general of the Missionaries of Africa from 2004 to 2010. In 2010, he then became the first African to be elected Superior General of the Missionaries of Africa, a position he held until 2016. That same year Pope Francis nominated him Bishop of Wa, Ghana. On May 29, 2022 the Pontiff announced Bishop Baawobr’s creation as a Cardinal.
Around the same period he became the first Ghanaian to become President of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM). As head of this body, he was to facilitate coordination and dialogue among all of the African episcopates. In the context of the rise of continental bodies, due to the Synod on Synodality, he should have played a major role in helping to harmonize the positions of the continent’s episcopal conferences.
With his passing the number of Cardinal electors is reduced to 126, with 81 being created by Pope Francis, 34 created by Benedict XVI and 11 created by John Paul II. In total, including the 99 non-electors, the College of Cardinals has 225 members as of November 28, 2022.