.- Just one year after Pope Benedict XVI visited the African country of Benin, its president believes that it can live up to his challenge of becoming a place of hope.
President Thomas Boni Yayi met Pope Benedict for the second time on Nov. 19 at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace. The encounter marked one year since Benedict XVI's visit to the West African nation, which neighbors Nigeria and Cameroon.
"I spoke with the Holy Father about Benin, which is a very small country," said President Boni Yayi. "But it has turned into a big country since his visit."
"He has focused his attention on us, not only for our sake, but for the Church," he added.
President Boni Yayi recalled how the Pope said during his 2011 visit that “it's absolutely necessary to associate the African continent with hope.”
“I told him he's right. He also told me that our country and the African continent is in the process of change and we have to understand that what he said is feasible," said the president, who is an economist.
"If we organize ourselves at every level, including all ages and all continents, we can change. We can change the African continent so that it has prosperity, under God the Father."
They discussed local cultures in Africa and the Church's role in education to promote peace in the region. The two leaders also spoke about the Church's contribution to the Benin's development.
Pope Benedict gave the president a carved and framed image of St. Peter's Square, while Boni Yayi gave him a crucifix and an African chasuble.
President Boni Yayi then met with the Holy See's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and with the undersecretary for relations with States, Bishop Ettore Balestrero.
The Pope has called Africa 'the great hope for the future.'
He visited Benin Nov. 18-20, 2011, to deliver his Apostolic Exhortation about the future of Christianity on the continent, "Africae Munus," which means “The Pledge for Africa.”
The document was the outcome of the 2009 Synod of African Bishops in Rome.
Pope Benedict said that his trip was "meant to serve as an appeal to Africa to concentrate every effort on announcing the Gospel to those who do not yet know it, to renew the commitment to evangelization, to which each member of the baptized is called by promoting reconciliation, justice and peace."
President Thomas Boni Yayi took up office in 2006 and was re-elected in 2011.
But his tenure has not been without its trials. In 2007, gunmen attacked his convoy during an election campaign tour.
And in Oct. 2012, three people were accused of poisoning him and charged with conspiracy and attempted murder. His would-be assassins include his doctor, one of his nieces and an ex-minister of commerce.