- A BEACON OF LIGHT IN THE AFRICAN HORIZON"
by Msgr. José Antonio S. Galvez
Society of St. Peter the Apostle, Rome
A friend from
Benin arrived last month and begged that I make a visit to his country. "Yes,
I will do that" but I could not say when because I was occupied with work
in the International Secretariat. I even had a remorse because I already
postponed this trip last year and so I came up with a solution, "If you
can get the PMS president's blessing for this trip, then I will definitely
go". Lo and behold, my friend did exactly what I said, so off I
went for this very incredible and fascinating odissey.
Benin is a narrow
wedge of territory in Western Africa comprising of 43,000 square miles. It has
a population of 6,787,625 of which 50% are 14 years and below (picture
people are mostly animistic and about 30% of the population are Christian.
Most of the inhabitants (or 36%) depend on agriculture with cotton, palm
products and cacao as the main cash crops. The airport is located at Cotonou,
the country's biggest city, so I quickly booked myself in one of the few
international flights available.
Arriving at the
airport at 8:30 pm, I was met by my friend, Fr.
Dorothée Hamaouzo, who
whisked me through immigration and customs. Since it was late, he brought me
quickly to the Nunciature for supper and then made me rest at the Archbishop's
house. After that 8 hour flight all the way from Rome, I slept soundly like a
The next day, Fr.
Dorothée, who is also the PMS
National Director, and
I had breakfast together with the Nuncio, Msgr.
Pierre Nguyen Van Tot (picture
National Director presented the whole itinerary and program to him. We also proceeded
to visit Cardinal Bernardin Gantin. We asked for his suggestions for he is the
highest ranking Catholic leader in Benin.
And so let us
start with some more pictures so that all of you can get a roving feeling of
the beauty and wealth of faith which I discovered during my 6-day journey
which took me more than 2,500 kilometers around Benin.
I had a chance to see Ouidah which is historicaly the place
where in the 16th and 17th centuries the African slaves where shipped from
into the new world, particularly to Brazil (picture n.3).
I was in this same place or port
that the early missionaries arrived to bring the faith to Benin. During the
Jubilee Year of 2000, this monument called as "the Gate of Salvation"
was constructed to commemorate the missionaries'arrival" (picture
sight, I was bought to a sprawling complex of buildings - the Archdiocesan
Catechetical Center - where a lot of materials are prepared and printed not
only for Benin but for neighbouring countries as well (picture
In the afternoon, I had
the chance to visit "St. Joseph du Lac Minor Seminary." I was able to encounter
the seminarians and see their facilities, one of which serve as the showers. Actually in this picture, you could see it as a roofless
building (picture n.6).
By suppertime I was in
"St. Gall Seminary" which is the venerable institution
started by the French missionaries to train Benin's first major seminarians.
We had used one of the seminary walls as an improvised screen and it was my
very first time to make an outdoor audio-visual presentation. Anyway, after my
talk and open forum, I had the chance to present some gifts and the picture of
our foundress, Jeanne
Bigard to Fr. Charles Alexander Whannou, the Rector of "St. Gall
Seminary" (picture n.7).
After Mass and breakfast at
St.Gall, we made a short stop to greet Msgr. Victor Agbanou, and get a glimpse
of the construction for Lokossa's future cathedral (picture
After this, we were on the
road again towards Tchanvedji where I visited Benin's second major seminary,
"Msgr Louis Parisot" (picture n.9).
With Fr. Pascal Guezodje who is the
Seminary Rector, I toured the grounds and you can see him standing in the future Dining
Hall which the Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle is helping to build
After meeting the seminary fathers and talking to the seminarians in the
chapel, it was another long stretch of travel to the other side of the
country. It was a welcome respite (and of course, the refreshing drinks!) as we
said hello to the novices of the "Soeurs de Saint Augustin" in Porto
Novo (picture n.11).
Anyway the day is not yet over as I invited all my new novice friends to
come to Misserete where "St. Joseph's Propaedeutic Seminary" is located (picture
same evening, I encountered both communities and explained the
works of the Pontifical Society not only in Benin but across the
After an early Mass with the St.
Joseph community (picture n.13),
was time to pay respects to Msgr. Marcel Agboton, Bishop
of Porto Novo, who just celebrated his 8th episcopal anniversary the previous
day. I wanted to stay longer but I had meetings to attend - first of which was
with the rectors and PMS animators.
I encouraged them strongly with the work
which they are rendering to the Church. Then I met 5 Bishops of Benin's
southern province and discussed with them my initial findings regarding the
seminaries. There was no time to rest because right after lunch, Msgr.
René-Marie Ehuzu brought us to his diocese of Abomey. But there were other
novices to visit as seen with these Benin religious whom we encountered at
Calavi (picture n.14).
This happened at the novitiate of the
"Oblates Catéchistes Petites
Servantes des Pauvres" (O.C.P.S.P.). It is a joy to see so many candidates to
the religious life, and as in the picture where you see them holding prayer
cards, I asked them to continue to pray for more missionary vocations. By
nightfall, we made it to Djime where we have "St.Paul's Minor Seminary".
After our supper and program, I was able to speak to the seminarians and then
talked privately with the Rector, Fr. Irenée Zountangi. Then off to bed for a
much needed rest.
I concelebrated with Bishop Ehuzu
for the community mass and after breakfast, I had a quick tour of the seminary
together with the formators (picture n.15).
Onwards to the next village ... but first we had
to make some stops: at the Marian Shrine and then the Bishop's house in
Dassa-Zoume. In this striking countryside which in a way resembles Lourdes,
France - there is a huge church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and it is
a popular place among thousands of pilgrims. I also made my personal prayers
and had this picture taken with Fr. Dorothée Hamaouzo who was my constant
travel companion (picture n.16).
We arrived at
Parakou by 2
p.m. After lunch and a brief rest, the
diocesan director accompanied us to "Msgr. Guy Riobe Pastoral Center." Here I
talked to those who teach and give courses to the young religious (picture
young religious, there was also some time to greet the aspirants and
postulants of the O.C.P.S.P.
n.18) Finally we were due at
"Our Lady of Fatima Minor Seminary." It was another huge audience
(for we had also invited the sisters of
the Pastoral Center and the postulancy to join us) and by means of the
presentation, a lively dialogue followed. Here we see Fr. Dorothée exhorting
the whole audience to be more missionary conscious (picture
We slipped back to the Archbishop's house to get a good night.
It was another long drive after Mass and
breakfast. Next stop was Natitingou and we made a short stop and paid respects
to Bishop Pascal N'Koué. He personally accompanied us to visit "St.
Seminary" (picture n.20).
The community met us at the gate
(picture n.21) and we made a procession for the
chapel (picture n.22).
After prayers, we had a simple lunch and I quickly went to work.
explained the Pontifical Society of St. Peter the Apostle to the seminarians
and then gave animation materials to the Bishop and the PMS diocesan director
There will always be time for a seminary tour and of
course, a community picture. And what a better site to take the picture than in front of the
statue of St. Peter which stands in the middle of the seminary grounds (picture
adieu to the community to proceed to Djougou for a night in the Bishop's
I joined the Bishop of
Djougou, Msgr. Paul Vieira and his community (there was a group of Sisters of
staying with him) for Mass and prayers. Last night, I had a very productive
discussion with Bishop Vieira on the challenges which Benin faces for her
missionary future; got the chance to visit some PMS projects which included "Saint Ambrose Center." In this complex where the
diocese's lay leaders are trained, I met its director who is also the diocese's Vicar
Michel Guichard who is a SMA (Societé des Missions Africaines) Missionary
from Lyon, France (picture n.25).
We returned to the
Bishop's house where we had a meeting
with the PMS Diocesan Directors and Bishops of Benin's northern province.
After our audio-visual presentation and the discussion, we had lunch together
and decided to record this meeting for posterity (picture
I bid Bishop Vieira goodbye
for it was now time to return to Cotonou. Arriving around 7:30 pm at the
Archbishop's House, Fr. Dorothée and I had a quiet supper by ourselves for a
I woke up and joined Fr.
Dorothée's parishioners for Sunday Mass (picture
which, we had to bid goodbye
to our host, Archbishop Assogba and to His Eminence, Bernardin Cardinal Gantin.
I had the chance to see the Cathedral of Cotonou (picture
and our PMS office at
"Paul VI Center" (picture
It is in these modest quarters that the National Director, Fr. Dorothée, plans the activities for missionary animation in
supper time, I packed my things and proceeded to the Nunciature. I had the
opportunity to meet some archdiocesan mission collaborators including the
former Mayor of Cotonou, Mr. Jerome Danjinou, and his wife (picture
I gave a parting message and I had
to leave for the airport. This evening, by 11:15 pm, my trip to Benin
officially came to an end.
Some thoughts kept drifting back
to my mind about the memorable 6-day journey. A striking thought is what you
are seeing in this picture. During our visit to "St.
Center" of Djougou, out of the nowhere a little girl came out and approached us
We did not know her name and Fr. Dorothée spontaneously approached
girl was carrying two mangoes. When Fr. Dorothée asked for a mango, she
immediately handed one to him. I felt amused so I quickly snapped this picture.
Bu afterwards, Fr. Dorothée asked for the second mango and without any
hesitation, she also gave it to him. Noticing that she had nothing in her
hands, she smiled at us.
It struck me as a beautiful
representation of this country. Truely, Benin is blessed by the rich character
of her people - so generous to even share the barest essential and most precious in their life - their
faith. Inspite of political uncertainty and
economic woes which surround her, BENIN is bound to shine as a guiding
beacon for this vast continent of Africa. May the Lord of the Mission
accompany her in her future destiny.