Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, a native a Benin and one of the most beloved collaborators of Pope John Paul II, died Tuesday in Paris at the age of 86.
Cardinal Gantin was born in Toffo in the Diocese of Cotonou, Benin, on May 8, 1922. He was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI on June 27, 1977. He spent more than 30 years working in the Roman Curia as prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America and Dean of the College of Cardinals.
In 2002 he asked Pope John Paul II for permission to return to Benin to work as a pastor and missionary. The Pope granted his request in a letter in which he expressed his affection and admiration for the fidelity of Cardinal Gantin as well as his pastoral zeal that led him to retire from the Curia and return to his homeland.
Because of his declining health he was forced to go to Paris to receive more adequate medical treatment.
Upon hearing of the cardinal's death, Pope Benedict sent his condolences to Benin. He said in the telegram:
"I ask God the Father, from Whom all mercy comes, to welcome into His light and peace this eminent son of Benin and of Africa who, universally esteemed, was animated by a profound apostolic spirit and by an exalted sense of the Church and her mission in the world. ... In sign of consolation, I send an affectionate apostolic blessing to the priests, religious, catechists and all the faithful of Benin, and to those who will participate in his funeral."
Benin's government secretary-general Victor Topanou, speaking from the capital Cotonou said, "We have just lost one of the great sons of our country and of the entire continent of Africa.”
The government had sent a minister to Paris to accompany the remains back to his native country for burial, Topanou said.