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Ghana: Mourning the loss of Fr Isidore Bonabom

If you search for “Isidore Bonabom” on the web, you’ll discover that the name belongs to a Jesuit priest passionate about human rights, especially when those threatened or abused.

You’ll find Isidore’s excellent articles defending victims of torture, people with mental disability and people living with HIV, to name a few.

And you will be infinitely sorry to learn that he is no more, that he was killed in a tragic car accident on 22 December 2015 in his native Ghana, aged 45.

We, the African Jesuit AIDS Network (AJAN), want to pay tribute to Isidore for the generous way in which he lent his expertise and compassion to the cause of people living with HIV.

It was his keen interest in human rights that first led Isidore to AJAN: he responded to a call for articles for a book marking 30 years since the start of AIDS. His contribution – in his own words – “threw some light on the discriminatory practices, inequalities and unfair power relations surrounding AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Isidore attended a conference in Nairobi about the articles in the AJAN book. “At the heart of our conversations,” he wrote later about the conference, “was an understanding of the human being as created in the image and likeness of God and therefore as a rights-holder.”

What drew us most to Isidore – and prompted us to ask for his collaboration again and again – was not his academic credentials, although he had a string of impressive degrees in human rights and law from the UK.

What attracted us most of all was his inimitable presence. It was a gift just to have him around. Isidore was polite, gentle, caring and an attentive and intelligent listener. At the same time, his mild manner concealed a resolute determination to defend what he thought was right and fair, something he did with consummate skill.

Perhaps one way of describing Isidore is that he managed to combine compassion with wisdom. His expert knowledge of human rights law was matched only by his care for the people at the heart of the matter, who were abused and neglected, and whose rights were not even worth the paper they were written on.

Specifically about people living with HIV, Isidore wrote: Their HIV-positive status shifts their positioning within the community from the middle to the peripheries, with dire consequences for their overall welfare. Sometimes what is forgotten is that being HIV-positive does not make one less human; quite the contrary, sensitivity is often heightened in people with HIV. To forget this is to ignore their humanity.”

The testimony of a friend who attended his funeral on 14 January reveals just how much Isidore was respected and loved: “The burial Mass was just out of this world. Isidore touched so many lives and his funeral Mass reflected that. The number of priests who attended were over 220! It was such a powerful witness… Others came from Nigeria, Liberia, Cote D’Ivoire, the UK. The Mass was held in the large hall which has a capacity of about 3000, and every single seat was taken, with others standing. It was such a consoling moment for most of us.”

We join the North-West Africa Province of the Jesuits in mourning the loss of Isidore, and the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, where he was research fellow at the Faculty of Law. But we do not only mourn what is gone, we also treasure what he left for us, in the memories we all have of him, and in his writings. Thank you Isidore!

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