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College of Cardinals

Biographical notes

[Updated: 14.05.2008]


Notice: the biographical notes are only a working instrument for the press, for the exclusive use of accredited journalists.


GANTIN Card. Bernardin




Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, Prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Bishops, President emeritus of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, Dean emeritus of the College of Cardinals, was born on 8 May 1922 in Toffo, archdiocese of Cotonou, Benin.

Cardinal Gantin’s name means tree of iron on African land, and always his people and his land have been and are present in his life. Son of a railroad official, he finished his school studies in Dahomey, in what is today known as the People's Republic of Bénin, and where in 1861 the first Christian missionaries arrived. The main Christian centre was in the city of Ouidah, and from there it spread throughout the whole territory. A strong thrust toward Christianity came with the experience of many slaves deported from the country to the plantations of Latin America, the majority of whom upon their return to Africa were witness to the strength and hope they had received from the Gospel.

In 1936, he entered the minor seminary in Bénin. On 14 January 1951, he was ordained a priest in Lomé in Togo by Archbishop Louis Parisot and was chosen as a teacher of languages at the seminar. At the same time he dedicated himself intensely to pastoral work in a group of villages and from this experience acquired a great love for the pastoral apostolate.

In 1953, leaving his heart in Africa, he was sent to Rome to study at the Pontifical Urban University and then at the Lateran. He received a licentiate in theology and in canon law.

On 11 December 1956 he was elected titular Bishop of Tipasa of Mauritania and Auxiliary of Cotonou and was consecrated on 3 February 1957.

On 5 January 1960, John XXIII promoted him to Archbishop of Cotonou when his old teacher, the ailing Archbishop Parisot, felt it was time to hand over his flock to the one who could take on the enormous work of the apostolate. His prowess as a pastor was demonstrated in a number of areas: he subdivided the diocese to adapt more effectively to individual situations; he promoted the founding of schools; he vigorously supported the activity of catechists and of indigenous sisters; and, particularly concerned with the problem of priestly vocations, he underwent many sacrifices in order to maintain seminarians and priests of the diocese in their studies.

President of the Episcopal Conference of the region that included seven countries (Dahomey, Togo, the Ivory Coast, Alto Volta, New Guinea, Senegal and Nigeria), he was called to Rome in April 1971 as the adjunct secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, of which he became the secretary two years later.

From 1975 he was the Vice-President and then President of the Pontifical Commission of Justice and Peace and also Vice-President and then President of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum (1976-1984).

President Delegate to the 5th General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (1980).

8 April 1984 until 25 June 1998, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

5 June 1993, Dean of the College of Cardinals.  On 30 November 2002, the Holy Father accepted the request of Cardinal Gantin to be dispensed from the Office of Dean of the College of Cardinals and of the title of the suburbicarian see of Ostia, allowing him to return to his homeland, in Benin.

Created and proclaimed Cardinal by Paul VI in the consistory of 27 June 1977, of the Title of the Suburbicarian Church of Palestrina (29 September 1986).

Cardinal Bernardin Gantin died on 13 May 2008.


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