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Erstwhile diplomat and retired Major Penitentiary Fortunato Cardinal Baldelli passed away yesterday at the age of 77. The College of Cardinals now numbers 205, of whom 116 are electors.

Fortunato Baldelli was born in 1935, as one of eight children in the mountains of Perugia in Italy. He entered seminary in Assisi in 1947 and was able to continue his priestly formation despite the death of his parents, thanks to his brother priests and Bishop Giuseppe Nicolini of Assisi. It did take until 1961 before he was ordained for the Diocese of Assisi-Nocera Umbra-Gualdo Tadino. In those 14 years he studied at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, earning a licentiate in theology, and at the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy, where he studied diplomacy.

Following his ordination, Father Baldelli became vice-rector of Assisi’s minor seminary. In 1966, he earned a doctorate in canon law and entered the Holy See’s diplomatic service. After assignments in Cuba and Egypt, Fr. Baldelli returned to Rome, where he worked at the Secretariat of State and later at the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church. In 1979 he was tasked to be a special envoy, with the duties of a permanent observer, at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

In 1983, Blessed Pope John Paul II consecrated Fr. Baldelli as titular archbishop of Bevagna, and sent him to Angola as apostolic delegate. In 1985 he also became Apostolic pro-Nuncio to São Tomé and Principe. In 1991, he left Africa to become Nuncio in the Dominican Republic, where he was succeeded in 1994 by one Archbishop Bacqué, who would later become Nuncio to the Netherlands. From 1994 to 1999, Archbishop Baldelli was Nuncio in Peru, and after that in France. In 2009 he returned to Rome, and was appointed as Major Penitentiary of the Apostolic penitentiary.

Archbishop Baldelli was created a cardinal in the consistory of 2010, and became cardinal deacon of Sant’Anselmo all’Aventino (incidentally the seat of the Primate of the Benedictine Order, Notker Wolf, re-elected as such today). In January of this year, Cardinal Baldelli retired as Major Penitentiary.

Cardinal Baldelli was a member of the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints.

Today will see the return of Pope Benedict XVI to the continent where the Catholic Church only seems to know growth, as he departs Rome for an apostolic journey to Benin. Apart from the usual courtesies and meetings, there are several important points in this three-day visit. As the relevant page on the Vatican website indicates, this visit takes place “on the occasion of the signing and publication of the Post-Synodal Exhortation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops”. Said Assembly took place during most op October of 2009, and the upcoming Apostolic Exhortation, said to be titled Africae Munus, will collect its conclusions and form something like a game plan for the African Church.

Cardinal Gantin (1922-2008)

Another personally important part of the visit, at least for the Holy Father himself, will be the opportunity to visit and pray at the tomb of Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, the Beninese prelate who was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s immediate predecessor as Dean of the College of Cardinals from 1993 to 2002. Cardinal Bernardin died in 2008 and his tomb is in the chapel of the St. Gall seminary in Ouidah, about 40 kilometers west of the capital, Cotonou, where the rest of the papal visit will take place.

Following the previous papal visit to Africa (Cameroon and Angelo in March of 2009) many media eyes and ears seem only open to whatever shockingly ‘new’ statement the pope will make now about condoms or some such interesting topic. If there will be such a statement that the media will take and run with, there is a high risk that the more important elements of this journey will be completely snowed under. It happened in the past, it will happen again. Better be aware of it.

Benin, which will host a pope for the third time (Blessed John Paul II visited in 1982 and 1993), has a population of some 8.8 million, of whom 27.1% is Catholic. Other main religions are Islam and Vodun (Voodoo). Many Beninese practice a combination of Muslim, Christian and local beliefs, and it seems likely that Pope Benedict will warn against that. To other African prelates, those of Angola and São Tomé and Principe during their ad limina visit in October, he spoke firmly against the practice of witchcraft in their countries and the threat it is to especially children:

“[T]he hearts of the baptized are still divided between Christianity and traditional African religions. Afflicted by problems in life, they do not hesitate to resort to practices that are incompatible with following Christ (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2117). An abominable effect of this is the marginalization and even the killing of children and the elderly who are falsely condemned of witchcraft.” [To the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Angola and São Tomé and Principe (C.E.A.S.T.) on their ad Limina visit, October 29, 2011]

The Church in Benin consists of two metropolitan archdioceses and eight dioceses. The two metropolitans are Archbishops Antoine Ganyé of Cotonou and Pascal N’Koué of Parakou. Archbishop Michael Blume is the Apostolic Nuncio to Benin, and also to neighbouring Togo.

Photo credit: 30giorni.it

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Pope Francis

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