Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Benin at the beginning of a three-day trip where he will unveil his blueprint on the future of the Church in Africa entitled “Africae Munus.”
“May this document fall into the ground and take root, grow and bear much fruit 'in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty,' as Christ himself said,” declared Pope Benedict upon his arrival to the small West African country.
The Pope was met at Cardinal Bernardin Gantin Airport in Cotonou by President Thomas Yayi Boni of Benin and Archbishop Antoine Ganye of Cotonou.
They were accompanied by colorful groups of local women who danced and sang as the Pope stepped off his chartered Alitalia flight. Many of the woman waved scarves and umbrellas bearing the Pope’s image.
The Pope explained that his visit marked the 40th anniversary of the Holy See establishing diplomatic relations with Benin and the 150th year since the first Catholic missionaries arrived in the country.
Additionally, however, he said he had another “more personal and more emotive,” reason for visiting Benin as he has long desired to pray at the tomb of the late Cardinal Bernadin Gantin. The two men worked together over many years in the Roman curia.
“We both happily assisted my predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, in the exercise of his Petrine ministry. We had many occasions to meet, to engage in profound discussions and to pray together,” the Pope said.
“Cardinal Gantin won the respect and the affection of many. So it seemed right that I should come to his country of origin, to pray before his tomb, and to thank Benin for having given the Church such a distinguished son.”
Outlining the challenges facing present day Benin, the Pope recognized it as a “country of ancient and noble traditions,” where there is also a “delicate transition currently under way from tradition to modernity.”
This transition, however, “need not provoke fear, but neither can it be constructed by neglecting the past.” Instead, “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.”
He then listed these pitfalls as an “unconditional surrender to the law of the market or that of finance, nationalism or exaggerated and sterile tribalism which can become destructive, a politicization of inter-religious tensions to the detriment of the common good, or finally the erosion of human, cultural, ethical and religious values.”
Above all, the transition to modernity must be “rooted in the dignity of the person, the importance of the family and respect for life,” he said.
With temperatures reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the papal entourage opted to don white rather than black cassocks.
They listened as the Pope explained how the Catholic Church “offers her own specific contribution,” to Benin’s process of modernization through “her presence, her prayer and her various works of mercy, especially in education and health care.”
The Catholic Church in Benin has been growing rapidly in recent decades with Catholics now making up three million of the country’s 8.8 million population.
The Church, he said, wants the people Benin to realize 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 then departed from the airport in a pope-mobile which was surrounded by enthusiastic crowds who ran and danced alongside the vehicle as it made its way through the streets of Cotonou.