Today following a Mass offered for the soul of Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, Benedict XVI recalled the life of the prelate, dean emeritus of the College of Cardinals, who died May 13 at the age of 86. The Pope noted how the cardinal dedicated his life to the Church and was the first African prelate to hold a position in the Vatican.
"It is in this perspective of faith and hope in the resurrection that we recall the venerable Cardinal Bernardin Gantin" who was always willing to the serve God and his fellow men, “maintaining faith in the motto he chose at the moment of his episcopal ordination: 'In tuo sancto servitio' (In your holy service)."
The Holy Father spoke of the character of Cardinal Gantin, which he described as "a marvelous blend of the characteristics of the African soul with those of the Christian spirit, of African culture and identification with evangelical values. He was the first African prelate to occupy roles of great responsibility in the Roman Curia.”
Benedict XVI continued by describing experiences he shared with Cardinal Gantin which allowed him to “gain ever greater appreciation of his prudent wisdom, as well as his solid faith and sincere adherence to Christ and to His Vicar on earth, the Pope. Fifty-seven years of priesthood, 51 years of episcopate and 31 as cardinal: this is the summary of a life spent for the Church."
The Pope also provided a brief biography of the cardinal’s life in the Church including: his priestly ordination in 1951; his consecration as bishop in 1957 at the age of 34; the period he spent as Archbishop of Cotonou, capital of his native country of Benin, when he was the first metropolitan of Africa. In 1971, he came to Rome as adjunct secretary to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. He later he became secretary of the Congregation and, in 1976, also became president of the Pontifical Council "Justice and Peace." Paul VI elevated him to a cardinal in 1977, and in 1984, John Paul II named him prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.
"This friend and brother of ours to whom we today pay homage was permeated with love for Christ, which made him affable and ready to listen and talk to everyone." The love of Christ “encouraged him to look, as he used to say, always to the necessities of the life that lasts, without losing himself in the side issues which quickly pass." This love "made him see his role in the various offices of the Curia as a service devoid of human ambitions," said the Pontiff.
“It was in this very basilica, celebrating his last Mass before leaving Rome, that he highlighted the unity the Eucharist creates in the Church. In his homily he quoted the famous phrase of the African bishop St. Cyprian of Carthage: 'From here the one faith shines out through the world; from here arises the unity of the priesthood'.” The Pope concluded, “This could be the message we draw from Cardinal Gantin, as his spiritual testament."