Benedict XVI Visits Benin (November 18-20, 2011)

Source: FSSPX News

For his 22nd apostolic journey, Benedict XVI pointed out that it coincided with the 40th anninversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Benin and the Holy See, and with the 150th anniversary of the evangelisation of the country.  What is more, this visit made it possible for him to fulfill his desire of making public the post-synodal apostolic exhortation Africae Munus on African soil, as well as that of visiting the tomb of his friend, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin (1922-2008).

The Catholic Church in Benin

The Church's Central Statistics Office counts almost 3 million Catholic faithful (34%) – alongside the animists (almost 40%), Muslims (24%) and some Protestants (3%) – in a population of over 8.7 million habitants; in other words, a third of the Beninese.

The Vodou cult, which is very present in the country, is a syncretic cult that has its roots in the beliefs of different peoples of the Gulf of Benin.  In Ouidah, across from the first cathedral in all of western Africa, stands the Vodou Temple of the Pythons.

In 1883, the Apostolic Prefecture of Dahomey (Benin's former name) was established.  In 1928, the first Beninese priest was ordained and 1957 saw the consecration of the first Beninese bishop.  Two years earlier, with the bull Dum Tantis, Pius XII had created the local Catholic hierarchy.

On December 31, 2010, the Beninese Catholic Church counted: 11 bishops and 811 priests (684 diocesan and 127 religious); 139 religious (men); 1,247 nuns; 30 lay members of secular institutes, 19 lay missionaries and 11,251 catechists; 497 seminarians and 308 postulants.  In the education domain: 165 elementary Catholic schools for 31,900 students; 50 Catholic middle and high schools for 24,598 students; and two Catholic universities with 1,274 students.

Catholic charitable and social institutions include 12 hospitals and 64 clinics, 7 nursing homes, 41 orphanages or daycares, 17 special education or social reeducation centers as well as three other institutions that work in the same domain.

On November 17, Archbishop Pascal N'Koué, archbishop of Parakou (North Benin), explained in the weekly paper Famille Chrétienne (Christian Family) the challenges facing the Beninese Church:  “One of the great challenges is the interiorization of the faith.  It is not enough to be sprinkled with the name of God.  The faith must be for us an inner strength, and interior life.  That is why we need monasteries. This difficulty of interiorizing facilitates the spreading of sects, that promise an easy happiness.  And since people do not interiorize the word of God, they are seduced by the sects.  But I see some who come back.  Once they have been plucked, they come back to the Church, because she welomes everyone.  They see very well that we are the ones who get down on our knees to help the poor.”

And he gave details of the realities of the African continent: “Unfortunately, here, we think that it is Europe that is going to come make our happiness.  It is true that Africa does not have as much money in its banks, but when we have a problem, it is not to the bank that we need to turn.  It is work that creates wealth.  And if Africa had the means to pay her development, she would say no to many things. But our leaders sign many incredible things to pay for their campaigns and Africa thus becomes the trashcan of all the ideologies.”

At the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mercy

After crossing the city of Cotonou on the afternoon of November 18, Benedict XVI was welcomed in a festive atmosphere in the cathedral of Our Lady of Mercy.  The Pope prayed over the tombs of the predecessors of Archbishop Antoine Ganyé, archbishop of Cotonou: Archbishop Christophe Adimou (1916-1998) and Archbishop Isidore de Sousa (1934-1999).  In a prayer to Our Lady of Africa, the Pope then implored the Queen of Peace to fulfill “the noble aspirations of the African youth”, “those who thirst for justice, peace and reconciliation”, and the “hopes of the children victims of hunger and war.”

At the Presidential Palace of Cotonou

On Saturday, November 19, in Cotonou, economical capitol and the largest city of Benin, Benedict XVI addressed the members of the government, the representatives of the Republic, the diplomatic body and the representatives of the main religions, all gathered together at the presidential palace.  He hoedd that Africa would not be seen as a land of “vast resources only in terms of energy, minerals, agriculture and humanity easily exploited.

The Pope maintained that men aspire to the freedom to possess “good schools and food for their children, dignified hospitals to take care of the sick,” that they wish to be respected and demand a transparent governance “that does not confuse private and public interests,” and above all, justice and peace.

Then Benedict XVI developped at length the evils that afflict the African continent and the rest of the world: “At this time, there are too many scandals and injustices, too much corruption and greed, too many errors and lies, too much violence which leads to misery and to death. (…) We know that no political regime is ideal and that no economic choice is neutral. But these must always serve the common good. Hence we are faced with legitimate demands, present in all countries, for greater dignity and above all for greater humanity. Man demands that his humanity be respected and promoted.

Political and economic leaders of countries find themselves placed before important decisions and choices which they can no longer avoid.”

The Sovereign Pontiff then called upon all the political and economical leaders: “Do not deprive your peoples of hope! Do not cut them off from their future by mutilating their present! Adopt a courageous ethical approach to your responsibilities and, if you are believers, ask God to grant you wisdom! This wisdom will help you to understand that, as promoters of your peoples’ future, you must become true servants of hope. It is not easy to live the life of a servant, to remain consistent amid the currents of opinion and powerful interests. Power, such as it is, easily blinds, above all when private, family, ethnic or religious interests are at stake. God alone purifies hearts and intentions.”

At the end of his discourse, the Holy Father reaffirmed that “a good understanding between cultures, consideration for each other which is not condescending, and the respect of the rights of each one are a vital duty.” “Hatred is a failure, indifference is an impasse, and dialogue is an openness,” he claimed, and then ended with: “Africa, be confident and rise up! The Lord is calling you!”

At the Seminary in Ouidah

Late in the morning, Benedict XVI stopped at the seminary in Ouidah, 42 km from Cotonou, where he prayed at the tomb of Cardinal Gantin.  Then he spoke to the priests, religious, seminarians and laymen, exhorting them all to have an “authentic and living faith”.  This faith, along with the “love for the God who reveals himself and for his word, the love for the sacraments and for the Church, are an efficacious antidote against a syncretism which deceives;” this love of God liberates from “occultism and vanquishes the evil spirits, for it is moved by the power of the Holy Trinity itself.”

The Holy Father encouraged priests to let Christ shine through their life: “In letting yourself be modelled on Christ, you will never substitute the beauty of your priestly being with ephemeral and at times unhealthy realities which the contemporary mentality tends to impose on every culture.”  He then asked them “never to underestimate the unfathomable riches of the divine grace placed in [them] and which [they] have been called to live at the service of peace, of justice and of reconciliation.”

The Pope reminded the religious that the consecrated life is “a radical following of Jesus.”  He explained to the seminarians that, “without the logic of holiness, the ministry is merely a social function” and that “the quality of [their] future life depends on the quality of [their] personal relation with God in Jesus Christ,  and on [their] sacrifices.”  The laymen were invited to have faith in the family built according to the design of God and in fidelity to the essence of Christian marriage.

The Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus

Two years after the special Bishops' Synod on “The Church in Africa in service to reconciliation, justice and peace,” which was held in October 2009, at the Vatican,  Benedict XVI signed the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus, on Saturday, October 19, in the cathedral of Ouidah.

Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, Secretary General of the Bishops' Synod, pointed out that the apostolic exhortation Africae Munus is in continuity with Ecclesia in Africa, the fruit of the first special assembly for Africa.  The evangelization ad gentes in Africa, announcing the Gospel to all those who do not know Jesus Christ, remains a priority that should concern all the Christians of Africa.


Meeting with Children in Cotonou 

On the afternoon of November 19, Benedict XVI went to the parochial church of St. Rita of Cotonou where several hundred children were waiting for him.  Pulling a rosary from his pocket, the Pope explained to them: “The rosary is like a tool that we can use to pray. It is easy to pray the rosary. Maybe you know how already; if not, ask your parents to help you to learn how,” after which he told them that they would receive a rosary at the end of the meeting.  “When you hold it in your hands,” Benedict XVI confided to them, “I would ask you to pray for the Pope, for the Church and for every important intention.”

The Holy Father then invited the children to come “often to visit” Christ, “present in all the tabernacles of all the churches around the world”, to tell Him their love.  “Dear young people,” he continued, “Jesus loves you. Ask your parents to pray with you! Sometimes you may even have to push them a little. But do not hesitate to do so. Jesus is a treasure whom you should share generously.”

After his second day on Benin soil, Benedict XVI rejoined the bishops of the country at the apostolic nunciature.  He asked them to be “authentic servants of the Gospel”, to make sure that Scripture holds “a central place in the life of the Church and of each Christian.”  The Pope insisted upon “the apostolic zeal that should animate all the faithful and is a direct result of their baptism”; they “cannot, therefore, shirk their responsibility to confess their faith in Christ and His Gospel wherever they find themselves.”  Benedict XVI also encouraged the bishops to make the formation of future priests one of their pastoral priorities.

Sunday High Mass in Cotonou 

On the last day of his trip, the Pope exhorted more than 30,000 faithful assembled in the Friendship Stadium in Cotonou, to be ardent witnesses of the Gospel to the many who are reticent to open their hearts to the Word of God, whose faith is weak, whose mentality, habits and way of life ignore the reality of the Gospel, and who “think that seeking selfish satisfaction, easy gain or power is the ultimate goal of human life.”  In Benin, the Church has received much from missionaries, pointed out the Pope.  Thus, “she must, in turn, carry this message of hope to people who do not know or who no longer know the Lord Jesus.”

Preaching his homily in a silence that contrasted sharply with the joyful cries that had welcomed him a little earlier, Benedict XVI recalled that: “Christ reigns from the Cross and, with his arms open wide, he embraces all the peoples of the world and draws them into unity. Through the Cross, he breaks down the walls of division, he reconciles us with each other and with the Father.”  “The baptized know that the decision to follow Christ can entail great sacrifices, at times even the sacrifice of one’s life,” explained the Sovereign Pontiff, adding that Jesus Christ introduces the faithful into a new world, a world of freedom and happiness.  The Pope's invitation to set themselves free from fear and from the “world of the past” had a special resonnance in this land where the Vodou cult was born and where, even today, animist beliefs mingle with the Christian faith.

At the end of the ceremony, Benedict XVI presented the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus to the presidents of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and to the presidents of the Synods of Eastern Catholic Churches on the continent, with the hope that it will guide them in announcing the Good News in Africa.  At the Angelus, the Pope exhorted the African faithful to “cultivate Christian family values” in this “land that welcomed the Holy Family.”  “At a time when so many families are separated, in exile, grief-stricken as a result of unending conflicts,” continued the Pope, “may you be  artisans of reconciliation and hope.”