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Arriving in Benin, Pope urges African blend of tradition, modernity

Catholic World News - November 18, 2011

Arriving on November 18 in Benin, where he will release an apostolic exhortation on the pastoral needs of the Church in Africa, Pope Benedict XVI said that he hoped the document would “fall into the ground and take root, grow, and bear much fruit.”

Pope Benedict began the 22nd apostolic trip of his pontificate, and the 2nd strip to Africa, with a flight from Rome to Cotonou, Benin’s capital. Government officials had prepared energetically for the papal visit, cleaning the city’s streets, placing colorful posters to advertise the Pope’s trip, and declaring a national holiday on November 18, the date of his arrival. An enthusiastic crowd was on hand at the airport to greet the Pope, led by President Thomas Yayi Boni and Cotonou’s Archbishop Antoine Ganye. The strong Catholic influence in Benin was evident in the fact that the Cotonou airport is named for the Holy Father’s longtime friend and colleague, the late Cardinal Gantin.

In the first public remarks of his visit, the Pope told a welcoming crowd that there were three major reasons for his visit to Benin: to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the country’s evangelization; to release his exhortation, Africae Munus; and on a “more personal and emotive” level, to pray at the tomb of Cardinal Gantin.

During his remarks at the airport welcoming ceremony the Pope acknowledged the importance of African culture, and underlined the importance of preserving traditional values, notably including “the importance of family and respect for life.” He recognized the tribal chiefs of Benin, saying that he would “encourage them to contribute, with their wisdom and understanding of local customs, in the delicate transition currently under way from tradition to modernity.”

“Modernity need not provoke fear,” the Pope said, “but neither can it be constructed by neglecting the past.” He urged the people of Africa to avoid the traps of modern life “such as 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.”

After addressing the crowd at the airport, the Pope traveled in to Cotonou to visit the city’s cathedral. The schedule for the visit left the evening open, allowing the Pontiff to rest before the major events of his weekend trip.

On Saturday, the Pope will hold a meeting with local political and religious leaders at the presidential palace, then visit the grave of Cardinal Gantin, and the seminary of St. Gall at Ouidah. Next he will travel to the basilica of the Immaculate Conception, where he will sign his apostolic exhortation. In the afternoon he will visit a residence run by the Missionaries of Charity for needy children, then meet the bishops of Benin at the residence of the apostolic nuncio. On Sunday the Pope will celebrate Mass at a stadium in Cotonou, and formally promulgate Africae Munus.

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