Back to Africa – three days in Benin

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:

Pallium Day

Which is also, of course, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the rock and the apostle to the gentiles, in many ways the foundations of the Church. And also, it is the day upon which Pope Benedict XVI celebrates 60 years of priesthood.

As every year, the metropolitan archbishops, standing firmly in the line of the aforementioned saints and in union with the Holy Father, today receive their pallia. In the words of the pope, from today’s homily:

“What does this mean? It may remind us in the first instance of Christ’s easy yoke that is laid upon us (cf. Mt 11:29f.). Christ’s yoke is identical with his friendship. It is a yoke of friendship and therefore “a sweet yoke”, but as such it is also a demanding yoke, one that forms us. It is the yoke of his will, which is a will of truth and love. For us, then, it is first and foremost the yoke of leading others to friendship with Christ and being available to others, caring for them as shepherds. This brings us to a further meaning of the pallium: it is woven from the wool of lambs blessed on the feast of Saint Agnes. Thus it reminds us of the Shepherd who himself became a lamb, out of love for us. It reminds us of Christ, who set out through the mountains and the deserts, in which his lamb, humanity, had strayed. It reminds us of him who took the lamb – humanity – me – upon his shoulders, in order to carry me home. It thus reminds us that we too, as shepherds in his service, are to carry others with us, taking them as it were upon our shoulders and bringing them to Christ. It reminds us that we are called to be shepherds of his flock, which always remains his and does not become ours. Finally the pallium also means quite concretely the communion of the shepherds of the Church with Peter and with his successors – it means that we must be shepherds for unity and in unity, and that it is only in the unity represented by Peter that we truly lead people to Christ.”

The harvest is quite large today, with 49 new metropolitan bishops appointed since last year’s ceremony. A significant number comes from traditionally Catholic countires and areas, such as South-Anmerica, the Philippines, but also various sub-Saharan countries, North-America, and a few nations in Europe and Asia.

Archbishop Lacroix of Québec receives his pallium from the Holy Father

Below follows the list of new metropolitan archbishops. The vast majority of these men were specifically apointed to archbishops, but a number became so because their dioceses were elevated to archdioceses. Recently, this happened with two dioceses in Angola – Malanje and Saurimo – and three in Brazil – Passo Funda, Pelotas and Santa Maria.

Archbishop Augustine Obiora Akubeze, Benin City
Archbishop Thumma Bala, Hyderabad
Archbishop John Barwa, Cuttack-Bhubaneswar
Archbishop Jacinto Bergmann, Pelotas
Archbishop Vincenzo Bertolone, Catanzaro-Squillace
Archbishop Pedro Brito Guimarães, Palmas
Archbishop Pierre-Marie Joseph Carré, Montpellier
Archbishop Thaddeus Cho Hwan-kil, Daegu
Archbishop Fernando Natalio Chomalí Garib, Concepción
Archbishop Paul Stagg Coakley, Oklahoma City
Archbishop Sérgio da Rocha, Brasília
Archbishop Charles Henry Dufour, Kingston in Jamaica
Archbishop Ricardo Ezzati Andrello, Santiago de Chile
Archbishop Antoine Ganyé, Cotonou
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller, San Antonio
Archbishop José Horacio Gómez, Los Angeles
Archbishop José Manuel Imbamba, Saurimo
Archbishop Gérald Cyprien Lacroix, Québec
Archbishop Dimas Lara Barbosa, Campo Grande
Archbishop Jairo Jaramillo Monsalve, Barranquila
Archbishop Darío de Jesús Monsalve Mejía , Cali
Archbishop Pascal N’Koué, Parakou
Archbishop Cesare Nosiglia, Turin
Archbishop Paul Yembuado Ouédraogo, Bobo-Dioulasso
Archbishop Jose Serofia Palma, Cebu
Archbishop Luis María Pérez de Onraita Aguirre, Malanje
Archbishop Guire Poulard, Port-au-Prince
Archbishop Juan Alberto Puiggari, Paraná
Archbishop Johannes Maria Trilaksyanta Pujasumarta, Semarang
Archbishop Murilo Sebastião Ramos Krieger, São Salvador de Bahia
Archbishop Gonzalo Restrepo Restrepo, Manizales
Archbishop Hélio Adelar Rubert, Santa Maria
Archbishop Juda Thadaeus Ruwa’ichi, Mwanza
Archbishop Rémi Joseph Gustave Sainte-Marie, Lilongwe
Archbishop Jesús Rubén Salazar Gómez, Bogotá
Archbishop James Peter Sartain, Seattle
Archbishop Pedro Ercílio Simon, Passo Fundo
Archbishop William Slattery, Pretoria
Archbishop George Stack, Cardiff
Archbishop Zbignev Stankevics, Riga
Archbishop Fausto Gabriel Trávez Trávez, Quito
Archbishop Marjan Turnšek, Maribor
Archbishop Sergio Lasam Utleg, Tuguegarao
Archbishop Oscar Julio Vian Morales, Guatemala
Archbishop Lewis Zeigler, Monrovia

Five of these men, namely archbishops Barwa, N’Koue, Poulard, Pujasumarta and Zeigler, were unable to be in Rome for the ceremony. They will receive their pallia at a later date.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Tony Gentile