VIS REPORTS: BENIN: TRANSITION FROM TRADITION TO MODERNITY
VATICAN CITY, 18 NOV 2011 (VIS) - This morning Benedict XVI began the twenty-second apostolic trip of his pontificate which is taking him to Benin where, on Sunday, he will sign the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops. (IMAGE SOURCE: RADIO VATICANA)
The Pope departed from Fiumicino airport in Rome at 9 a.m., landing at the Cardinal Bernardin Gantin airport in Cotonou at 3 p.m. On arrival he was greeted by Thomas Yayi Boni, president of Benin, Archbishop Antoine Ganye of Cotonou, and other civil and religious authorities.
In his address, the Pope enumerated three reasons for his visit to the country: the invitation he had received from the president and the members of the Episcopal Conference of Benin, which this year celebrates the 150th anniversary of evangelisation; the signing of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Africae Munus", and the third "more personal and more emotive" reason of praying before the tomb of Cardinal Gantin and thanking "Benin for having given the Church such a distinguished son".
The Holy Father continued: "Benin is a country of ancient and noble traditions. Her history is significant. I am pleased to take this opportunity to greet the traditional chiefs. Their contribution is important in the construction of the country's future. I would like to encourage them to contribute, with their wisdom and understanding of local customs, in the delicate transition currently under way from tradition to modernity.
"Modernity", he added, "need not provoke fear, but neither can it be constructed by neglecting the past. It needs to be accompanied by prudence for the good of all in order to avoid the pitfalls which exist on the African continent and elsewhere, such as unconditional surrender to the law of the market or that of finance, nationalism or exaggerated and sterile tribalism which can become destructive, a politicisation of inter-religious tensions to the detriment of the common good, or finally the erosion of human, cultural, ethical and religious values. The transition to modernity must be guided by sure criteria ... rooted in the dignity of the person, the importance of the family and respect for life. All of these values exist in view of the common good which must take first place, and which must constitute the primary concern of all in positions of responsibility".
"The Church, for her part, offers her own specific contribution", the Pope concluded. "By her presence, her prayer and her various works of mercy, especially in education and health care, she wishes to give her best to everyone. She wants to be close to those who are in need, near to those who search for God. She wants to make it understood that God is neither absent nor irrelevant as some would have us believe but that He is the friend of man. It is in this spirit of friendship and of fraternity that I come to your country".
Pope Benedict XVI has arrived in Benin for a three day Apostolic visit . Veronica Scarisbrick reports on his first afternoon in this West African nation :
“God Bless Benin” said Pope Benedict XVI in Fon , a local language , as he arrived in the Republic of Benin on the afternoon of Friday November 18th .
It must have been a moving moment for him as he landed at the nation’s international airport of Cotonou, the economic capital . An airport named after one he was close to for many years in the Vatican: the first sub Saharan African cardinal , Bernardin Gantin . Earlier on his way there , answering a journalist’s question on the plane he had highlighted his admiration for his former colleagues’ practical and profound intelligence and faith and even his sense of humour.
And when he was greeted by the President of the nation Mr Thomas Yayi Boni and his wife, together with civil and religious authorities , the atmosphere was warm and welcoming in true African style. And the Holy Father expressed his affection both to the Government and the local Bishop’s conference for inviting him during the year in which Benin celebrates the fourtieth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Holy See, as well the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of its evangelisation.
The Pope then highlighted the broader outreach of this Apostolic journey: “This Apostolic Journey”, he stressed, “ also fulfils my desire to bring back to African soil the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae Munus. Its reflections will guide the pastoral activities of numerous Christian communities in the coming years. May this document set seed and take root, grow and bear much fruit “in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty”, as Christ himself said .”
More broadly in his arrival speech Benedict also payed tribute to the former Kingdom of Dahomey’s ancient and noble traditions, pointing to the contribution of traditional chiefs on the path forward: “ I would like ", he said,“ to encourage them to contribute, with their wisdom and understanding of local customs, in the delicate transition currently under way from the traditional to the contemporary ”.
Finally the Pope highlighted how the Church might contribute in a specific way to that path forward: “ By her presence, her prayer and her various works of mercy, especially in education and health care, she wishes to give her best to everyone. She wants to be close to those who are in need, near to those who search for God. She wants to make it understood that God is neither absent nor irrelevant as some would have us believe but that he is the friend of man. It is in this spirit of friendship and of fraternity that I come to your country”.
Following his arrival Pope Benedict then covered the 12 kilometres to the Cathedral of Cotonou by popemobile surrounded by enthusiastic crowds, crossing the two bridges over the canal between the lagoon and Atlantic Ocean, slowly making his way towards the city’s Cathedral, an early 20th century architectural building decorated with alternate rows of burgundy and white brick. It’s dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy and when the Pope spoke he focused his attention on Mercy: “As we praise God for the marvels which he never ceases to bestow upon humanity, I invite you to meditate for a moment on his infinite mercy”.
A moment earlier he had shone the spotlight on two former Archbishops of Cotonou buried there , describing them as heroic workers in the vineyard of the Lord and pastors full of zeal and charity. On a more historical note the Holy Father did not neglect to point to the decisive role of one of these men, Archbishop de Sousa, in the country’s transition to democracy .
It was a prayerful moment, ending with a blessing and a Prayer to Our Lady of Africa , asking Her to obtain for all of humanity salvation and peace!